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Arte Povera: Art From Italy 1967-2002

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


23 Aug 2002 to 10 Nov 2002


Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gilberto Zorio


Judith Blackall, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Ida Gianelli

about the exhibition

This major exhibition of significant works from the Italian arte povera movement of the 1960s and 1970s was drawn from the extensive collection of the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli, Turin. The exhibition traced the artists’ careers to 2002 with a selection of installation works. The exhibition sought not only to present the movement as an art historical genre, but as an evolving movement with continued relevance in contemporary art.

The term arte povera was first used by Italian curator Germano Celant in 1967 to describe a group of artists, mostly from Northern Italy, who from the early 1960s had taken up radical, unconventional ways of working with a diversity of media. Their favoured materials were dense and ephemeral – slate, wax, coal, water, neon, earth, fire and felt – and the manner in which they used them challenged an art system they saw as staid and engendered complacency in the viewer. Arte povera was not a cohesive style, but the artists involved shared an interest in conceptualism and minimalism and investigated questions such as what makes an object an artwork, and can artists ever elude the commodifying grasp of the art market?

With a disdain for bourgeois pursuits, and passionately anti-consumerist, this group of artists were both overtly political in their practice and strongly grounded in a sense of their Italian history. Their work exhibits a great respect for materials and an attention to spatial possibilities – qualities which are now ascribed to installation art.

Arte Povera: Art From Italy 1967-2002 presented a number of installations and delicate sculptural pieces. Pier Paolo Calzolari’s felt-floored installation La casa ideale/The ideal home (1968) took over part of the Level 1 Gallery, using ice to render the essence of the everyday. For opening night, an albino dog sat in the installation, adding to the overwhelming sensation of ‘whiteness’. Marisa Merz, the only female member of the movement, was represented by a series of private, mixed media portraits, and her more recent Senza titolo/Untitled (1997) in which a violin moulded in wax lay in a small lead tray filled with water acting as a sound box. Giuseppe Penone’s Patate/Potatoes (1977) was an installation of potatoes, among which bronze-cast potatoes were grown inside casts of parts of the artist’s head.

Many of the works reflected on arte povera’s broader aspirations to fathom the interconnectedness between art and all of life. Internationally the exhibition was one of several which looked at the movement, however it was unique in that it contextualised works made at the height of the movement with more recent work by the artists, tracing the development of their practice and making a case for the continuing significance of arte povera.

Organised in association with Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli, Turin.

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