Arte Povera

H I S T O R Y

Arte Povera is an avant-garde art movement founded in Italy in the late 1960s. The term initiated by the art critic Germano Celant, translates as “Poor Art” inspired by the “Poor Theatre” of the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, which abandoned costumes and other accessories to focus on the actor’s relationship with the audience. In other words, the Arte Povera movement is about focusing on the core of the artistic expression by taking away, eliminating and downgrading things to a minimum.

The movement started during a period of post-war rebellion, where artists were expressing their radical dissatisfaction with two major elements. On one side, the values established by political, industrial and cultural institutions in Italy.
And on the other side, as a reaction against the popularity of Pop Art and the soulless sleek lines of the Minimalism movement.

P R I N C I P L E S

The movement is rooted in the appreciation for the mundane and the demystification of art. Indeed, Arte Povera artists rejected traditional elitist art forms such as oil paint, marble and precious metals and attempted to challenge a commercialised contemporary art system. Instead, they choose to adopt everyday objects and found materials like earth, rocks, clothing, rope and sometimes ball-point pens and paper which they repurposed for their practice.

Other common practices of the main Arte Povera artists included the
following principles:

The everyday becomes meaningful

Use of organic forms

Complex and symbolic signs lose meaning

Art = Life (no culture & no art system)

A R T I S T S

Dozen of Italian artists were part of the movement, many of which are still active to this day. Here is a selection of my two favorite ones with a selection of visuals of their work and a favourite quote from them.

Giorgio Griffa

Although he never received any formal art training, Giorgio Griffa (1936) learned with Italian artists such as Filippo Scroppo. He first studied to become a lawyer, but in the 60s decided to abandon law – and figurative painting – to produce his signature abstract works. He believes in a technique in which self-expression is suppressed and the artist shares the same creative status as his tools.

”I realised that it was necessary to cool down the emotional relationship between the painter and the painting and that helped me to realise that painting has its own identity which is not just the projection of the individual. […]
I realised that I needed to forget myself.”
- Giorgio Griffa

Marisa Merz

Marisa Merz (1926 - 2019) didn’t start making art until she was in her 40s.
She was an interdisciplinary artist and painter. In the 1960s, Merz was the only female protagonist associated with the radical Arte Povera movement. Her practice emcompassed aspects of craft and practices traditionally associated with women and often used materials, such as copper, aluminum, waxed paper, and paraffin wax, which were a reflection of her home environment.

There has never been any division between my life and my work'.”
- Maria Merz