Arte povera was a radical Italian art movement from the late 1960s to 1970s whose artists explored a range of unconventional processes and non traditional ‘everyday’ materials
Arte povera means literally ‘poor art’ but the word poor here refers to the movement’s signature exploration of a wide range of materials beyond the traditional ones of oil paint on canvas, bronze, or carved marble. Materials used by the artists included soil, rags and twigs. In using such throwaway materials they aimed to challenge and disrupt the values of the commercialised contemporary gallery system.
The term was introduced by the Italian art critic and curator, Germano Celant, in 1967. When referring to arte povera, Celant wasn’t really talking about a lack of money, but rather about making art without the restraints of traditional practices and materials. His pioneering texts and a series of key exhibitions provided a collective identity for a number of young Italian artists based in Turin, Milan, Genoa and Rome. Arte povera emerged from within a network of urban cultural activity in these cities, as the Italy was seized by economic instability once more.
Leading artists were Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Piero Gilardi, Jannis Kounellis,Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Emilio Prini and Gilberto Zorio. They worked in many different ways; They painted, sculpted, took photographs and made performances and installations, creating works of large physical presence as well as small-scale gestures.
Influence of arte povera
The heyday of the movement was from 1967–1972, but its influence on later art has been enduring. It can also be seen as the Italian contribution to conceptual art. In Japan, the mono-ha group looked into the essence of materials and stepped away from technological modernism. In the United States, the terms anti-form and post-minimalism were used to describe work that rejected the fixed industrial shapes and sleek forms of minimalist sculpture.
Tate Modern display: Arte Povera and Anti-Form
In the late 1960s, many sculptors emphasised the process of making, and explored ideas of energy in their work. This movement became known as arte povera and anti-form.
Tate Modern display: Photography in Arte-Povera
Three works from the late 1960s and early 1970s show different ways in which artists associated with arte povera engaged with photography.
In focus: Alighiero Boetti
From 1963, Boetti began using materials in his work which had, until then, never been associated with fine art. Throughout his career he is known to have created art using light fixtures, biro pens, postal stationary and plexiglass, to name a few. His modest choice of materials became a benchmark for arte povera artists and took art from its elitest pedestal.
Watch artist Francesco Clemente discussing the work of his friend Alighiero Boetti:
Turn left for the revolution
Novellist Hari Kunzru discusses the influence of left-wing political values in art and visual culture.