Arte Povera, “poor art” or “impoverished art,” was the most significant and influential avant-garde movement to emerge in Europe in the 1960s. Of all the artistic labels that emerged from the 60’s, Arte Povera was the most poetic and most elusive. Technically, it was never an art movement or official group. The works never conformed to one specific style or appearance and the term continues to be rebelliously untranslatable.The literal translation is “poor art” and truly, with the grand masters who spearheaded this movement, poor art does not do justice to this time period.
Arte Povera was essentially, Italian; a response to the widespread desire among artists to expand the physical and mental boundaries of art and to break down what they saw as the irrelevant divisions between art and life. Genoese writer and critic Germano Celant was the first to coin the term in 1967. During the sixties, he continued to use Arte Povera to define and advocate the work of a number of young artists from Turin, Rome, Genoa and Milan. All these artists were, in fundamentally different ways, devoted to redefining the properties and possibilities of painting and sculpture within the context of Italy’s past, present and future.
The movement grouped the work of roughly a dozen Italian artists whose most distinctly recognizable trait was, their use of commonplace materials that might evoke a pre-industrial age such as, earth, rocks, clothing, paper and rope. Their work marked a reaction against the modernist abstract painting that had dominated European art during the 1950s; hence much of the group’s work is sculptural. The group also rejected American Minimalism, in particular what they perceived as its enthusiasm for technology. In this respect, Arte Povera echoes Post-Minimalist tendencies in American art of the 1960s. But in its opposition to modernism and technology, and its evocations of the past, locality and memory, the movement is distinctly Italian. The thirteen artists of this movement are, Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Emilio Prini and Gilberto Zorrio.
Arte Povera was a return to simple objects and messages. The body and one’s behavior was art, the mundane became meaningful. Traces of nature and industry appear in the works where nature can be documented in its physical and chemical transformation. Dynamism and energy are embodied in the work. Complex and symbolic signs lose meaning and the notion of space and language is explored, Art = Life.