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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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4 A Baroque-Centric Arte Povera 131


131 4 A Baroque-Centric Arte Povera 4.1 Nature Aside from experimentation with unconventional materials and dynamic pro- cesses across spatial and temporal realms, for Arte Povera, nature played a vital role in aesthetic investigations as a source of subject matter, material, and pro- tagonist in the artistic process. For Italian artists in the post-war context, the relationship between human beings and their changing environment presented a poignant topic where, in a newly industrialized society, the co-existence with nature became a means to aesthetic revelation.141 Nature became the focal point of re-evaluations on the part of artists interested in exploring the evolution of contemporary Italian society from its rural origins to urban future. As Celant writes, “Fabro’s ‘natured’ nature thrives on tradition, and on the history of voy- ages from the biological body to the physical and cultural world in which that body finds itself” (“Luciano Fabro” 109). Grüterich writes that “[Mario] Merz has made art resemble the nature of man as well as the nature of the world and of civilization, so that we who live in an industrial culture are able to keep con- stantly in mind the fact that we are part of the world” (“Mario Merz” 146). As material, nature was employed as a time-based, vital force that brought the art object into the theatrical realm of the living. Removed from a conception of the art object as a fait accompli, Arte Povera artists brought nature’s metamorphoses into the realm of the aesthetic, pointing to the...

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