Arte Povera: Artistic Tradition and Transatlantic Dialogue

March 6, 2023

Giulio Paolini, Mimesi, 1976–1988. Photo by Marco Anelli
Giulio Paolini, Mimesi, 1976–1988. Photo by Marco Anelli.

Magazzino Italian Art is pleased to present the fifth iteration of the annual spring lecture series which brings together some of the leading scholars of Arte Povera to present new perspectives on postwar Italian art. The 2023 Lecture Series, Arte Povera: Artistic Tradition and Transatlantic Dialogue, curated by Dr. Roberta Minnucci, Magazzino’s 2022-23 Scholar-in-Residence, will address research topics which are strictly interconnected with Arte Povera’s relationship with the past and its artistic exchanges with the United States. Participants for the 2023 season will feature Dr. Marin R. Sullivan, Dr. Roberta Minnucci, Dr. Laura Petican, and Dr. Raffaele Bedarida.

The four-part lecture series will explore how Arte Povera’s artistic identity was concurrently shaped, on the one hand, by the legacy of artistic tradition and, on the other, by its dialogue with American art. Presented by Germano Celant in 1967 to describe the experimental practices of a group of young Italian artists, Arte Povera adopted a process-oriented approach based on the investigation of unconventional materials and the active involvement of the viewer, situating itself in dialogue with artistic experiments emerging in Europe and the United States. As opposed to their international peers, however, a number of Arte Povera artists engaged profoundly with the past, employing references to Italian and European cultural heritage in order to reclaim a specific artistic identity in the face of the increasing global relevance of American contemporary art.

The award of the 1964 Venice Biennale’s Grand Prize to Robert Rauschenberg marked the international recognition of American Pop Art, which was condemned by Italian artists for being an uncritical celebration of consumer society promoted by a lucrative art market. Beyond this ideological opposition, however, some Arte Povera artists demonstrated a strong interest towards and profound knowledge of contemporary American artistic trends. The United States offered Italian artists an important international platform for presenting their works to a new audience, just as Italy provided American artists wider international exposure to their work in Europe. This generated an unprecedented artistic exchange between the two sides of the Atlantic, leading Italian and American artists to engage in a sustained dialogue that is still awaiting to be fully examined in the academic domain.

By considering the Italian artists’ relationship with their own cultural heritage as well as with the international artistic scene, Dr. Petican, Dr. Sullivan, Dr. Bedarida, and Dr. Minnucci will share their insight into the intricate dynamics embedded in the progressive definition of Arte Povera’s artistic identity. Each lecture will offer a more complex reading of Arte Povera’s relationship with cultural identity and the United States, shedding light on crucial themes within the current scholarly debate that include dynamics of influence, transatlantic exchange, cultural diplomacy, and artistic heritage.

Material Dispersions: Sculpture and Photography in Postwar Italy
Dr. Marin R. Sullivan, Independent Scholar and Curator
March 18, 2023 l 12 p.m.
Reserve your spot

In the late 1960s, vanguard artists on both sides of the Atlantic, often classified under the label of Conceptual Art, increasingly turned to unstable, unconventional materials, new patronage models, and alternative modes of display, and in the process, expanded the boundaries of sculpture. While diverse in form and intent, the resulting projects all shared an uneasy, if necessary, dependence on photography in order to document, contain, and, in many cases, preserve the work. The reliance on the photographic image also bolstered the narrative of dematerialization that emerged in the period, and in subsequent decades, has been used within art historical scholarship to argue that the photograph alone constitutes the work. Focusing on a selection of complex, multipart projects realized by both Italian and non-Italian artists in Italy between 1966-1972, including those by Yayoi Kusama, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Robert Smithson, and Joseph Beuys, this lecture examines the complex intermedial relationship between concept, matter, and image at the heart of so much materially driven, process-oriented artwork created at the end of the long ‘60s. These artists did not approach photography as something that would or could replace the material aspects of his work, but as another material among many, albeit one that had the power to radically reduce or expand the experience of the other components. The hybrid status of these works, existing as both material phenomena, temporary installation, and photographic image, suggest an alternative way in which the work of art has been rethought through the medium of sculpture, at once beyond the limits of the object’s physical boundaries and firmly anchored to them.

Casting the Past: Arte Povera and Classical Sculpture 
Dr. Roberta Minnucci, Magazzino Italian Art 2022-23 Scholar-in-Residence
April 1, 2023 l 12 p.m.
Reserve your spot

During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Arte Povera artists produced experimental reinterpretations of classical statuary. Jannis Kounellis, Giulio Paolini and Michelangelo Pistoletto, in particular, explored the history of Western sculpture by challenging the traditional dichotomy between original and copy. They presented replicas of classical sculptures in the form of fragments or in multiple copies, often juxtaposed with mundane elements. In these years, characterized by the dematerialization of the art object and by post-minimalist practices that explored unconventional materials and adopted a new approach to abstraction, why did these Italian artists look back to the classical past, engaging with sculptural materiality and figuration?

This lecture will investigate how classical art was appropriated among the Arte Povera artists and channeled into the domain of contemporary art, examining the reception of antiquity through its later revivals – namely the Renaissance and Neoclassicism – in relation to the coexistence of different temporalities within the artwork. By questioning the linear narrative of art historical development, these artists presented a new conception of the avant-garde that capitalized on the creative potential of the past. In recovering the materiality and iconography of ancient Western sculpture, they reclaimed classical antiquity as a shared European cultural heritage, setting a foundation for their own artistic identity.

Arte Povera and the Baroque: The Evolution of National Identity
Dr. Laura Petican, Independent Scholar
April 15, 2023 l 12 p.m.
Reserve your spot

This lecture will explore the evolving concept of Italian national identity as it relates to the persistence of the past in post-war Italian art; specifically, as concerned with the radical artistic experiments of Arte Povera in the 1960s and 1970s. Considering notions of cultural inheritance and baroque historiography, the lecture will touch upon the ways in which the avant-garde was deployed periodically throughout the twentieth century to political ends, and resurfaced following Italy’s interwar cultural isolation in Informale’s experimental works. The notion of ‘baroque-centricity’ will be discussed as a methodology to illustrate Arte Povera’s conceptual and tangible links to the past and, perhaps, as a frame through which artists negotiated a meaningful relationship with the historical context but remained firmly entrenched in the present moment. A selection of artworks will be discussed with respect to their engagement with baroque-centric principles of nature, space, tension, theatricality, time, materials, and the senses.

Between Cultural Diplomacy and Counterculture: Eugenio Battisti, Alan Solomon, and the Exhibition Young Italians in 1968
Dr. Raffaele Bedarida, Associate Professor of History of Art at the Cooper Union, New York
April 30, 2023 l 12 p.m.
Reserve your spot

This lecture will provide a historical context for Young Italians: the exhibition held in 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston and the Jewish Museum in New York. The exhibition was the first overview of trends in Italian art from the 1960s in an American museum, covering movements ranging from Nuova Figurazione to Optical Art, from Pop Art to Arte Povera. Bedarida will investigate how the exhibition was influenced by the compounding factors of cultural diplomacy surrounding the mid-century economic boom, the Cold War emphasis on transatlantic exchange, and anti-imperialist initiatives emerging in the wake of the Vietnam War. After mapping the sociopolitical climate, Dr. Bedarida will reflect on how the scholar and activist Eugenio Battisti conceived of the exhibition and why it came to be curated by Alan Solomon, the curator of the 1964 Venice Biennale. The lecture will conclude with a consideration of Young Italians’ legacy, which served both as a formative experience and a cautionary tale for Germano Celant and Kynaston McShine, two curators who shaped the art discourse on Arte Povera and Conceptual art in this period.

About Dr. Marin R. Sullivan

Dr. Marin R. Sullivan is a Chicago-based art historian, curator, consultant, educator, and writer with a PhD from the University of Michigan. She specializes in the histories of modern and contemporary sculpture, especially its interdisciplinary, intermedial dialogues with photography, design, and the built environment. Sullivan is the Director of the Harry Bertoia Catalogue Raisonné and was the co-curator of Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life, organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center. She is the author of Alloys: American Sculpture and Architecture at Midcentury (Princeton University Press, 2022) and Sculptural Materiality in the Age of Conceptualism (Routledge, 2017) as well as numerous catalogue essays and articles. Sullivan currently serves on the Board of Docomomo US/Chicago and is a lecturer and guest curator at DePaul University.

About Dr. Roberta Minnucci

Dr. Roberta Minnucci is an art historian and curator specializing in postwar Italian art. She has obtained her PhD from the University of Nottingham (UK) with a thesis which examined Arte Povera’s engagement with cultural memory. Prior to joining Magazzino Italian Art as the 2022-23 Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Minnucci was a Rome Award holder at the British School at Rome and the recipient of the first edition of the Researching and Rewriting Contemporary Art History Scholarship promoted by Fondazione Baruchello. Her research has been supported by the Getty Foundation, the Association for Art History, the Association for the Study of Modern Italy, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her articles and essays have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals and exhibition catalogues. She has gained curatorial and research experience at different institutions including: Tate Modern, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, Christie’s, Southampton City Art Gallery, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art and Museo Fondazione Pino Pascali.

About Dr. Laura Petican

Dr. Laura Petican is an art historian, curator, author, and cultural programs director. Her research is centered in contemporary Italian art and fashion studies. Dr. Petican received her BA and MA in Art History from Western University, Canada; a PhD from Jacobs University, Germany; and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship awarded by the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada. She has authored the monograph Arte Povera and the Baroque: Building an International Identity, followed by Contemporary Italian Art, Fashion, and the Evolution of Italianità, to be published in 2024 within the Routledge Research in Art History series; and is editor of Fashion and Contemporaneity: Realms of the Visible; co-editor of the recently published In Fashion: Culture, Commerce, Craft, and Identity; and was Exhibitions Reviews Editor for Catwalk: The Journal of Fashion, Style and Beauty. Her research has been presented with the College Art Association, American Association of Italian Studies, the Italian Art Society, the Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues conference in Oxford, United Kingdom; the Center for Italian Modern Art, New York; and the American University of Rome, Italy. Dr. Petican has served as Chair of the Arts and Culture Commission of Corpus Christi, as a Collections Committee Member of the Art Museum of South Texas, and is Curatorial Advisor for Blue Light Contemporary.

About Dr. Raffaele Bedarida

Dr. Raffaele Bedarida is an art historian and curator specializing in transnational modernism and politics. His research has focused on cultural diplomacy, migration, and exchange between Italy and the United States. He has also worked on exhibition history, censorship, and propaganda under Fascism and during the Cold War. An associate professor at Cooper Union, he holds a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center as well as a BA and MA from the University of Siena. His academic articles and essays have been published extensively in periodicals, such as Oxford Art Journal, International Yearbook of Futurism Studies, and Artforum. Dr. Bedarida’s most recent books are the monograph Exhibiting Italian Art in the US. Futurism to Arte Povera (Routledge, 2022) and the edited volume Curating Fascism: Exhibitions and Memory from the Fall of Mussolini to Today, co-edited with Sharon Hecker (Bloomsbury, 2022). He is currently curating an exhibition on Italian artist Corrado Cagli to be held at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York in the Fall 2023.

About Magazzino Italian Art

Located in Cold Spring, New York, Magazzino Italian Art is a museum and research center dedicated to advancing scholarship and public appreciation of postwar and contemporary Italian art in the United States. The nonprofit museum serves as an advocate for Italian artists as it celebrates the range of their creative practices from Arte Povera to the present. Through its curatorial, scholarly, and public initiatives, Magazzino explores the impact and enduring resonances of Italian art on a global level.

Meaning “warehouse” in Italian, Magazzino was co-founded by Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu. The 20,000 square-foot museum, designed by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo, opened its doors in 2017, creating a new cultural hub and community resource within the Hudson Valley.

Admission is free to the public.

Magazzino News

Magazzino Italian Art