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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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1 Cultural Heritage in Post-War Italy 21


21 1 Cultural Heritage in Post-War Italy 1.1 Socio-Political Context The emergence of Arte Povera on the international art scene in the 1960s articu- lated an aesthetic expression of social and political currents that contributed to Italy’s evolving cultural identity. Rising from an extended historic cultural tra- jectory, artists associated with the movement demonstrated in their works a new ideology – a different approach to formal structure and technique, a distinct rela- tionship with materials and a novel understanding of the artist’s role in society – that ran counter to the canons inherited over generations. Roman antiquity and the Italian Renaissance and Baroque eras provided the physical backdrop to the contemporary artist’s existence and, having been deployed in the construction of Mussolini’s Fascist state, were associated with an outdated, irrelevant cultural expression. As Anthony White states, In the aftermath of fascism’s exploitation of the avant-garde, belief in the effectiveness of radical artistic form and modern technology to create emancipatory conditions of spectator- ship seemed less tenable. As the use of modern technology for art had shown itself to be per- fectly amenable to the cause of human subjugation, one’s approach had necessarily to be transformed. (64) In the second half of the twentieth century, the role and relevance of Italy’s cul- tural legacy demanded reassessment and contemporary artists were left to navi- gate this path through the past and into the present. Artists associated with Arte Povera began this work with a wholesale recon- ceptualization of the aesthetic act. An expanded scope...

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