Over the past few years, artists have become increasingly concerned with environmentalism and climate change. But at the end of the 1960s, Arte Povera artists were already thinking about trees, water, and indiscriminate urbanization. They were deeply concerned with a relentlessly widening gap between nature and culture that lies at the core of today’s ecological crisis. But unlike the Land Artists of the 1960s who often intervened on the landscape with monolithic gestures, the Italian pioneers of Arte Povera attempted to mediate the nature and culture divide on a more personal and intimate scale.
It is in this context that artists like Marisa Merz, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Jannis Kounellis sought to dismantle the hierarchies and values of classical and modern art alike to incorporate the rawness of “poor materials” in their work. A desire to drag the messiness of the real world into the gallery space led to a truly groundbreaking and disenchanted questioning of urgent topics like environmental concern and capitalist exploitation.
This is the third and final lecture of a series that explores the key artists and major innovations introduced by Arte Povera. The series has looked at the international and local historical contexts from which Arte Povera emerged, starting from an exploration of the philosophical and artistic ideas that linked Northern Italy to France and the rest of the world.
Giovanni Aloi is an art historian in modern and contemporary art. He currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sotheby's Institute of Art New York and London, and Tate Galleries. He regularly lectures on modern and contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been translated in Italian, Chinese, French, Russian, Polish, and Spanish.