Arte Povera and Anti-Form

Lynda Benglis, ‘Quartered Meteor’ 1969, cast 1975
Lynda Benglis
Quartered Meteor 1969, cast 1975
Tate
© Lynda Benglis

In the late 1960s, many sculptors emphasised the process of making, and explored ideas of energy in their work.

Artists began to use a diverse range of everyday materials – sometimes industrial, sometimes organic – rather than those associated with fine art. These substances were often malleable, volatile or elastic, allowing natural forces and energies such as gravity, electricity, and magnetism to manifest themselves. The process of making was often evident in finished works.

Though it rarely addressed itself explicitly to the radical politics of the late 1960s, the sculpture of this period upset traditional ideas about how art should be distributed and displayed. Some works changed appearance on every new installation, or would need to be remade each time they were exhibited. Sculpture addressed its immediate surroundings in new ways, drawing attention to the architecture of the gallery or gesturing to the space outside its walls.

The critic Germano Celant coined the phrase ‘Arte Povera’ to describe the new generation of Italian artists. This did not only imply use of ‘poor materials’: Celant was also concerned with work that explored changing physical states instead of representing things in the world. 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.

While each artist in this room emerged from a distinctive national context, their affinities were soon recognised, and many of them appeared together in the seminal group exhibitions Nine at Castelli (1968) and When Attitudes Become Form (1969).

Curated by Mark Godfrey and Helen Sainsbury.
Texts by Mark Godfrey.