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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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2 The Past in the Present 53


53 2 The Past in the Present The tendency of twentieth-century Italian artists to reiterate the forms and tech- niques of their own historical, cultural trajectory served the purpose of providing context and stability for a cultural production suffering the dislocation and crisis of identity brought on by recent political oppression and social alienation. In efforts to define a new language capable of reflecting an altered, post-war reali- ty, Italian artists in the 1960s and 1970s inadvertently called upon an established cultural context from which to launch their own artistic identity. The past offered not only an ideological point of resistance for Arte Povera but an internationally known context from which to emerge and an infamous reference point for their unprecedented visual experiments. The presence of the past in Italian post-war art is a truth that permeated the artworks by virtue of an environmental influ- ence, but which was capitalized on by figures external to the creative current. Into the mid 1970s the homogenizing effects of capitalism and consumerism were still a threat to the possibility of an art form articulated in essential energies and real life. Artists of this period reflected on capitalism’s influence in a society struggling with an identity both industrial and rural, traditional and modern. Rudi Fuchs comments on the difficulty for artists to articulate a relevant artistic expression in this period of homogenization and immediate gratification “[…] without falling into the trap of fashions, forms of narrow-mindedness and tradi- tional nostalgias” (qtd. in Corà, Burri e...

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