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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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3 Baroque-Centricity 97


97 3 Baroque-Centricity The emergence of Arte Povera on the national and international art scenes in the 1960s, while signaling a new era in Italian cultural production, also marked a transformed relationship with Italy’s past, one based on a re-positioning and re- evaluation of the meaning and significance of cultural heritage. Prior to World War II, the cultural achievements of the Italian Renaissance had not only provid- ed the backdrop for aesthetic evaluation in subsequent art historical discourse, it was called upon as a means of asserting cultural authority, as in the case of Mus- solini’s rationalist architectural program and a general “call to order” based on classical aesthetic principles.100 In the post-war artistic climate however, Italy’s cultural identity, fixed as it had been in the schism between abstraction and politicized figuration, entered a new phase that signaled a rupture with traditional modes of representation, as artists worked towards a representation of their contemporary reality beyond the local and specific. For Arte Povera, the classic tradition, however pervasive in the Italian aesthetic context, along with more recent developments including American Minimalism and Pop Art, offered an outmoded and restrictive lan- guage of investigation as far as conventional painting and sculpture were con- cerned. Penone explains that at this time, “[…] il y avait la nécessité d’une ap- proche différente, capable de définir une autre identité culturelle, italienne mais aussi européenne, face au contexte alors dominé par l’art américain” (“La Na- ture” 166). The necessity for a...

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