An exhibition at the Pompidou Centre presents a range of artistic practices – from art to design, cinema, music and live performance – whose common ground is represented by the notion of “poor”.
The summer exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, entitled “Un art pauvre”, is an unprecedented event in terms of its multidisciplinary scope, involving the entire museum in the presentation of a range of different artistic practices – art, design, cinema, music and live performance – that all share a reference to the notion of “poor” art. The programme includes: a day of study dedicated to Arte Povera, art film sessions, archive documents, two videos on Cretto by Alberto Burri at Gibellina, one filmed by composer Thierry De Mey and the other by artist Raphaël Zarka.
There is also a partnership with the Festival of IRCAM for art and technological innovation, a section dedicated to musical composition, also focussed on the notion of “poor” that includes authors such as Beat Furrer and Salvatore Sciarrino. In terms of dance, choreographers such as Thomas Hauert, the company Grand Magasin, Marius Schaffter and Jérôme Stünzi will occupy the museum spaces over the course of three weekends.
In terms of the works on display, the main reference is the period that covers the birth and establishment of the movement that became known as Arte Povera: the 1960s and early 1970s. So at the start of the journey we encounter Mario Merz’s mural sculpture Coccodrillo based on the Fibonacci sequence (1972) while the main exhibition in Galerie 4, following an introduction of achromatic surfaces by Manzoni, presents the combustions of Burri and cuts of Fontana, an important group of works taken from the permanent collection at the Pompidou Centre, by all the exponents of the movement.
One of the most interesting aspects of the overall show however is the relationship of these works with another important group, also featured in the permanent collection at the Pompidou Centre, displayed on this occasion on the fifth floor in the form of the exhibition “Architecture et design. Autor de Global Tools (1973-75)”. Ettore Sottass, seen as the leader of the anti-design school, as Global Tools was described as, along with Andrea Branzi, Michele De Lucchi, Ugo La Pietra, Gianni Pettena, Riccardo Dalisi, Lapo Binazzi and Franco Raggi, all trained as architects and ended up making a fundamental contribution to the field of visual arts, based on the idea that they had much in common with the Arte Povera movement. As is noted, both movements were baptised by critic Germano Celent who after having coined the term Arte Povera for a group of Turin origin, also invented that of Architettura Radicale for the architects, not only but often from Florence, at least in terms of education.
It is thus a rare opportunity to be able to see, to name just a few of the many displayed, works such as Igloodi Giap (Merz, 1968), Penne di Esopo (Pascali, 1968), Soffio 6 (Penone, 1978) or the famous Senza titolo from 1968 by Anselmo in which a block of granite seems to be absorbing a head of lettuce, at the same time as works by exponents of Architettura Radicale such as Tecnica Povera by Dalisi with his Sedia in cartapesta (1973), or the Modelli delle abitazioni verticali (1975) made by Michele De Lucchi when he was still a student at the faculty in Florence. Also by Dalisi, images of his work from the outskirts of Naples such as l’Animazione del Rione Traiano (1971-75), designs by Archizoom for gazebos for “Pianeta Fresco” (1967), designs for the destinies of man (1973), works by Sottsass, fruit of his pilgrimages in desert areas of Spain and, dominating the gallery, the large installation by Gianni Pettena Wearable chairs, the result of the performance in the US (1971). The Arte Povera movement and the Radicals shared the same exaltation of the empirical character of their work that made it attemptable, possible to render physical in the object-work, the thought process that was at its origin. They created a lively dialogue between the material dimension and the immaterial one in art-making, demanded an unprecedented closeness between the body and the environment as a system of communicating vessels.
Exponents of Arte Povera and the Radicals crossed paths in a number of Italian artistic events of the time – the Premio Masaccio by San Giovanni Valdarno in 1968, “Campo Urbano” in Como and “Al di là della Pittura” at San Benedetto del Tronto in 1969. They were afterwards separated in terms of critical acclaim, indisputably broader for Arte Povera, and reunited by theoretical systemisation that paradoxically, with due exceptions, were however more fruitful abroad than in their homeland. “Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form”, curated by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle in Berne in 1969, was the exhibition that established Arte Povera while for the Radicals it was the 1972 exhibition “Italy the New Domestic Landscape” curated by Emilio Ambasz, and the work of recognition on the part of museum institutions such as the Frac Centre in Orleans and indeed the Pompidou Centre, who did justice to a movement that in Italy has only very recently been attracting the attention and interest that it deserved in the past. The attentive work of acquisition of recent years of the Centro Pecci and the Superstudio exhibition currently showing at MAXXI are an example.
“Architecture et design. Autor de Global Tools” also presents some previously unpublished photographs and documents that describe other terrain of shared encounter of the two realities: the Seminario Verticale self-managed by students from the Florence Faculty of Architecture. In the context of this Gianni Pettena (then a young lecturer, recently returned to Italy after having been artist in residence at the Minneapolis College of Arts, shortly after the Walker Art Center in the same city dedicated a solo-show to Pistoletto) during the mid 1970s brought in some of the leading exponents of Arte Povera such as Mario Merz, Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounellis, Luciano Fabro, placing them in relation his own work that of the Radicals.
A further element that denoted a certain empathy between the two realities was the capacity for critical understanding of the artistic process that existed. It was for example Ettore Sottass, the undisputed inspirational father of the Italian radicals, who made the initial interpretation that rightly released the Quadri Specchianti by Pistoletto, on show here in Galerie 4 in the Arte Povera group, from the Pop category within which up until then they had been mistakenly placed (Sonnabend and Friedman). Sottsass, on the pages of Domus (n. 414, 1964) in relation to the works of Pistoletto spoke of “old European ulceration” with a different matrix from American Pop “to be found amid Kafka and Metropolis, Céline and Artaud, between the anguish of anonymity and that of awaiting to fulfil oneself”. All that remains is to hope that after this positive Parisian experiment, Italy will soon find the strength to do something similar.