19 May, 2009

Rich vein of poor art

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

New exhibition focuses on vibrant movement of 60s Italy which used everyday materials, ultimately paving way for modern conceptual work

It was a period of economic turmoil and social upheaval, where a questioning of the established order was reflected in a cultural scene which decreed that anything could, and should, be used to make art.

But this was a long way from modern Britart: the collection of newly acquired works on show at the Tate Modern in London from today celebrate a radical 1960s movement which, while often ignored, cleared the way for much of today’s conceptual work.

Energy and Process is the Tate’s first gallery dedicated to Arte Povera, the vibrant movement which swept Italy in the 1960s and early 70s, a reaction to the economic and political chaos which ended the country’s postwar resurgence and the commercial bent of pop art.

Gathering together a dozen or so artists in Turin, Milan, Rome, Genoa, Arte Povera – literally translated as “poor art” – used everyday materials to create sculpture, photos, installations and other works which were often ephemeral, or changeable, as well as to modern eyes surprisingly contemporary.

“What was interesting about Arte Povera was that there was an international network of artists immediately speaking to each other, who could understand that in the turmoil of the late 60s the ways in which art-making could be transformed was something that they shared and were united in questioning,” said Matthew Gale, head of displays at the Tate.

“It does have a relevance today and it does seem incredibly new and incredibly vibrant, partly because those concerns with questioning the nature of what it means to be making art, what place the artwork has within the gallery walls, the relationship with commercialism, are still very live topics.”

Mixed in with the movement’s antecedents – going back as far as a Picasso relief from 1914 – and big names such as Anselm Kiefer who followed in its wake, the gallery contains 23 newly acquired pieces, with Arte Povera at the centre.

To the untutored eye, even the earliest Arte Povera works appear just the sort of thing, if included in a modern Turner prize shortlist, to set off a fresh outbreak of “is this art?” consternation in the press.

One of the most famous works on display, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s The Venus of the Rags, begun in 1967, features a generic classical statue in marble turned to face a huge heap of old clothes. Another room, devoted to one of the movement’s biggest names, Greek-born Jannis Kounellis, includes a 1969 work involving nothing more than a series of burlap sacks filled with beans.

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