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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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5 The Past as Identity: Arte Povera and the Nation 221


221 5 The Past as Identity: Arte Povera and the Nation 5.1 Assimilating the Past The concept of baroque-centricity is established in the expression of general baroque themes or characteristics – space, tension and theatricality, time, materi- als and the senses and nature – in varying degrees throughout the body of work produced by Arte Povera. In order to contemplate the significance of these ob- servations, we must take a step back from their formal elements and examine the implications of a baroque-centric Arte Povera – a movement that on the surface, represented a wholesale overturning of aesthetic convention, but was inextrica- bly linked to a national, cultural past. To establish an identifiable baroque-centric trait-complex confined to for- mal and conceptual articulations may signal an aesthetic continuity with Italy’s cultural past and present. This exercise, however, will move beyond formal and conceptual concerns to consider the impetus behind the identification and propa- gation of a transhistorical aesthetic sensibility. To assert the validity of a ba- roque-centric Arte Povera is to address the conflation of cultural and national identity in the post-war period and the contemporary socio-artistic climate that necessitated a repositioning of Italian art within a national, and subsequently international, context. In this framework, Arte Povera – its artists, critics and scholars – look to the past for aesthetic reference and as a source for identity formation. The baroque is thus seen not only as a style, a sensibility or cultural era, but as a wealth of symbols and myths from which later generations of...

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