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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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Conclusion 257


257 Conclusion A 1998 retrospective exhibition titled Arte Italiana 1945-1995: Il Visibile e L’Invisibile held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, suggests that Arte Povera and subsequent twentieth-century developments in Italian art have been absorbed into the canon of major international art movements. This is not news, but more specifically, a distinctive character of Italian art that has also been reg- istered in the larger cultural context appears to be its enduring relationship with the national past and historical, cultural environment and with this, the observa- tion that the avant-garde was never really so avant-garde. Midori Matsui writes that the current trend of retrospectives points to a “leveling-out” of the avant- garde and its “transformative potential” (69). She states that “Arte Italiana” reinforces this fact by emphasizing the formal continuity of the Italian avantgarde at the expense of its moral passion and historical impetus. This exhibition never- theless lets younger audiences appreciate the transformations of avantgarde problematics as the history of inheritance, departure, subversion, and sublimation of its past. (69) There are still advocates of the notion that Arte Povera represented a rupture with tradition and had achieved a definitive break with its history, such as Szee- mann, who placed Mario Merz among artists who in his estimation had made this break. He states, Mario Merz belongs to the Italy and to the innovative art of the late Sixties, which in this country had finally succeeded in canceling the nostalgia of historic and artistic treasures and palaces, of elegant...

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