The term ‘Arte Povera’ was introduced by the Italian art critic and curator, Germano Celant, in 1967. His pioneering texts and a series of key exhibitions provided a collective identity for a number of young Italian artists based in Turin, Milan, Genoa and Rome. They were working in radically new ways, breaking with the past and entering a challenging dialogue with trends in Europe and America.
As opposed to endorsing a distinctive style, Arte Povera described a process of open-ended experimentation. Artists were able to begin from a zero point, working outside formal limitations. Arte Povera therefore denotes not an impoverished art, but an art made without restraints, a laboratory situation in which a theoretical basis was rejected in favor of a complete openness towards materials and processes.
The artists associated with Arte Povera worked in many different ways. They painted, sculpted, took photographs and made performances and installations, creating works of immense physical presence as well as small-scale, ephemeral gestures. They employed materials both ancient and modern, man-made and ‘raw’, revealing the elemental forces locked within them as well as the fields of energy that surround us. They explored the context of art-making itself, and the space of the gallery, as well as the world beyond the gallery, reflecting on the relationship between art and life. Essentially, they placed the viewer at the centre of a discussion about experience and meaning.