Giovanni Anselmo seems to shape time and space in his sculptures, combining ephemeral, organic, and quotidian elements to a poetic end. Trained as an architect, Anselmo burst onto the international art scene alongside artists like Mario Merz and Alighiero Boetti as a leading member of the Arte Povera movement in Italy. The radical avant-garde movement, which solidified under Italian critic-curator Germano Celant in 1967, leveraged unorthodox or ordinary materials to make work that ran counter to the hegemonic art market and critiqued the postwar miracolo italiano, or Italian economic miracle. Anselmo’s unusual materials, which the artist arranged in elegant dialogic compositions, have included water, vegetables, granite, light, and compasses. In one of his best-known works, the 1968 Senzo Titolo (Structure that Eats), Anselmo crushed a head of lettuce between a granite block and a stone held together by a copper wire. If the lettuce dried out and shrank, the wire slackened, and the stone would fall. The viewer thus became a participant who had to decide whether or not to renew—sustain—the sculpture with additional fresh lettuce.
With elemental or everyday materials, Anselmo posed questions that were metaphysical and philosophical in nature. He investigated the unseen forces underlying nature and the cosmos, like torsion and gravity, and strove to make those energies visible. With the dreamy radicalism that so characterized the brief Arte Povera movement, which disintegrated in the 1970s, Anselmo said, “Perhaps simply because I am an earthling and for this reason limited in time, space, and specifics, I have (recently) been making works using the idea that they are either time, in a broad sense, or infinity, or the invisible, or everything” (G. Anselmo in conversation with M. Bandini, NAC No. 3, Bari, March 1973, p.4). Major solo shows of Anselmo’s lyrical work have been held at the Stedelijk Museum in Gent, the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Museum Kurhaus Kleve, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and the Renaissance Society in Chicago.