The Riches of "Poor Art"

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday September 13, 2017

Arte Povera, the primarily Italian art movement that arose during the late 1960s in response to the political turmoil of the time, has remained a force in art that is vividly relevant today. Now a comprehensive overview of the innovative art is being presented by Hauser & Wirth, shedding light on the ideas and motivations of the group of Italian artists jointly known as ‘i poveristi.’

The exhibition features works spanning the late 1950s to the 1990s by Claudio Abate, Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Giorgio Colombo, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Paolo Mussat Sartor, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Emilio Prini, and Gilberto Zorio.

Far from a unified movement, Arte Povera encompassed painting, performance, sculpture, design, and photography in a broad range of styles that emphasized the personal and handmade; embraced the mystical; celebrated the mythological and archaic; and denied commoditization through a range of strategies, including art that deteriorated in real time and installations that included live animals.

Highlights of the show include Michaelangelo Pistoletto’s Orchestra di stracci – vetro diviso (1968)--cheap, colorful rags combined with discarded clothing and stacked to form a rectangular structure, inside of which electric kettles hum, hiss, and whistle. The sounds emanating from this work evoke the restless cultural moment in which Pistoletto created it.

Nearby, Jannis Kounellis’s Senza titolo (1959) (right) deconstructs ideas of classical panel paintings by transforming the artist’s studio into a theatrical experience. This seminal work involves painted letters, symbols, and numbers on an unstretched, unprimed canvas hung directly onto his studio wall. Senza titolo constituted Kounellis’s first performance and anticipated the multidisciplinary nature of his subsequent efforts.

While studying medicine at the Universita degli Studi di Torino in 1945, Mario Merz was arrested and imprisoned for his association with the anti-fascist group Giustizia e Liberta. Throughout his yearlong confinement, Merz created continuous drawings using whatever materials were available to him at the time. The practice sparked an interest in the idea of organic creation, an approach that proved to have an enduring influence on Merz’s oeuvre, most notably in works that freely associate organic and found materials.

The exhibition includes works by Alighiero Boetti, who explored systems of knowledge, classifications, and sequences, often creating works that mined the relationship between order and chance. In 1971, Boetti began a series of traditional weavings and embroideries, conceived in collaboration with Afghan women working at the Royal School of Needlework in Kabul. The most well-known of these textiles are Boetti’s Mappa(above), world maps that depict each country through the design of its national flag according to current political territories, highlighting the shifting geopolitical conditions of the time.

In addition to iconic Arte Povera works, the exhibition includes a vast array of rare archival materials from the library of curator Ingvild Goetz. Among these are more than 400 monographs, exhibition catalogues, and publications, as well as documentary photographs and invitation cards from early Arte Povera exhibitions, installed as a library on the gallery’s third floor (above). Alongside these rich materials, the works on view capture with clarity and force the visual poetry that ‘i poveristi’ built from disenchantment.

Arte Povera continues through October 28 at Hauser & Wirth, 548 West 22nd Street, NY, NY Info Photos: Peggy Roalf


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