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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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Introduction 13


13 Introduction The Spring 2008 issue of the journal October placed post-war Italian art in a context that sets it apart from its most customary characterizations. This effort stems from the observation that art of the period has typically been assessed along a twofold trajectory that follows on the one hand, the rejection of tradi- tional painting carried out by Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni and on the other, the anti-consumerist explorations of natural processes and ma- terials conducted by artists associated with Arte Povera (3). The issue’s editor, Claire Gilman, positions these post-war artists in contradistinction to the most contemporary Italian artists who, with the success of recent exhibitions such as Francesco Vezzoli’s “star-studded Pirandello extravaganza” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in October 2007 and the simultaneous Performa07. Senso Unico exhibition at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, operate in a manner that would deny any concern with national identity or a particular Italian connection (3).1 Although Gilman states that with respect to these Italian and Italy-based artists and the international art scene, “Italian art has finally arrived” (3), the goal of the current publication is to explore the earlier period, which is rooted in “specific national conditions” and “real historical imperatives” (3).2 The goal of this thesis is to take up a similar discussion of post-war Italian art that expands upon previous scholarship centred on a traditional painting vs. materials-based assessment and to examine the works in the context of their contemporary socio-cultural...

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