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Please note that the correct circa dates for the present work are 1966-1981.
Italy could well be the place where the next significant developments in contemporary art occur', stated Alan Solomon in the catalogue to the show Young Italians held in Boston in January 1968, a prediction that was coming true as he wrote. Two months earlier Flash Art carried Germano Celant's 'manifesto' article 'Arte Povera: Notes for a Guerrilla War' which proclaimed the emergence of art practices freed from the aesthetics of representation and the idea of the finished product associated respectively with Pop Art and Minimalism. Of the artists shown at the Boston I.C.A., Pino Pascali and Michelangelo Pistoletto went on to exhibit in several of the Arte Povera shows, and both artists were key figures in the resurgence of experimental art in their respective cities of Rome and Turin. Outside Italy there were keen observers (Ileana and Michael Sonnabend, Harald Szeemann) whose links with cutting-edge gallerists, notably Gian Enzo Sperone, put them directly in touch with the new centres of individual and group creativity. The roll-call of local artists shown at the Sperone Gallery in Turin between 1966 and 1969 includes the majority of the Arte Povera names: Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Piero Gilardi, Marisa Merz, Mario Merz, Giuseppe Penone, Gianni Piacentino, Pistoletto and Gilberto Zorio. (Giulio Paolini and Luciano Fabro showed at another Turin gallery). Meanwhile the stars of Fabio Sargentini's Attico gallery in Rome were Pascali (until his tragic death in September 1968) and Jannis Kounellis. Soon all the artists were involved in the great Berne exhibition of 1969, Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form, while Anselmo and Zorio showed at Castelli's in New York alongside Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman.
Informed contemporaries were in no doubt about the importance of what has become known as Arte Povera. What exactly was meant by the term was less clear. Jean-Christophe Ammann's definition of 1970 is among the most satisfactory because it goes beyond a banal emphasis on 'poor materials': 'Arte Povera designates a kind of art which, in contrast to the technologized world around it, seeks to achieve a poetic statement with the simplest of means. This return to simple materials, revealing laws and processes deriving from the power of the imagination, is an examination of the artist's own conduct in an industrialized society'.
For Tommaso Trini, Arte Povera was part of a fundamental transformation: 'the most striking quality of the new works resides in the fact that they are in keeping with the fluidity and fleetingness, the banality and necessity of the events we encounter in everyday life. Yesterday art was a privileged vista of the world, a private balcony; today, it is the world in every aspect, from landscape to language, which serves as art's vista'. It is difficult now to capture this sense of amazement. Arte Povera has become domesticated. We are increasingly aware of the individual careers of the artists, much less so of their formative early years. Much of the work no longer survives because of its ephemeral nature as process or performance art. Furthermore, museums and galleries are reluctant to exhibit certain works as intended on grounds of health, safety and public sensibility - work, for instance, involving the use of animals and birds, fire, chemical interactions, and other 'live' elements, including spectator participation, have now to be read about in books. As Marcel Duchamp noted, the truly remarkable things about an age cannot be preserved or stored in a museum. Although there was little that Arte Povera that shared with Futurism - if anything it questioned beliefs in technology and the human domination of Nature - it too was a radical art whose inventiveness continues to fascinate.
Dr Robert Lumley of University College of London is currently preparing entries for the catalogue of the exhibition 'From Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-72' which will be on show at the Tate Modern, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington in between 2001-2003.