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Arte Povera and the Baroque

Building an International Identity

Laura Petican

This book explores the social history of contemporary Italian art with a focus on its relation to theories of national identity, cultural inheritance, and baroque historiography. Its scope encompasses Fascism’s involvement in the visual arts in the first half of the twentieth century and the regime’s deployment of the avant-garde as well as Italy’s interwar cultural isolation and Informale’s experimental works. The analysis of the «baroque-centric» vision of Arte Povera in the post-war era leads into the discussion of Italian artists’ relation to the cultural past. The baroque is employed as an historical, conceptual model involving notions of nature, space, tension, theatricality, time, materials and the senses, and is used to trace the trajectory of Italian art’s evolution in style and ideology in the twentieth century. The book examines the work of Arte Povera artists in the context of a persisting alternation between tradition and revolution and provides an alternate reading to analyses rooted in a materials-based interpretation.


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7Summary The thesis examines the significance of Arte Povera in the context of national identity and cultural inheritance. It explores the work of this group in relation to its historical and geographical context and places it along a cultural trajectory that maps out a conceptual link between Arte Povera and its baroque predeces- sors. The study begins with a discussion of the socio-political climate of the interwar period and its effect on the arts with respect to the Fascist deployment of Italy’s cultural heritage. It traces artistic developments through the Abstrac- tion/Neo-Realism debate, through to Informale and the miracolo italiano in the immediate post-war era, establishing the basis for the emergence of Arte Povera in the 1960s. The writings of Germano Celant, an Italian art critic who coined the term Arte Povera in 1967, are considered with respect to his promotion of the group in the international artistic arena. Contrary to scholarship that characteriz- es the group as a rupture with artistic convention, this thesis positions Arte Pov- era as an artistic movement intrinsically linked to its national cultural heritage. While the body of works produced by Arte Povera represents a break with tradi- tional modes of expression on many levels, the thesis describes their production as a conceptual re-articulation of the baroque. Arte Povera works are not viewed as baroque per se, but as baroque-centric. They exhibit traits commonly identi- fied in the art and architecture of the seventeenth century, but which are re- conceptualized according to the socio-political...

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