Arte Povera

Arte povera ('impoverished art') was named by art critic Germano Celant after seeing an exhibition at Bretesca Gallery in Genoa in 1967. Celant coined the term in response to a tendency he saw in Italy in the 1960s among artists who were working in diverse, often experimental ways to explore the intersections of art and life and of nature and culture. Arte povera sits within the framework of conceptual and minimalist practice of the mid-1960s. It was a reaction to the cool, precise anti-figurative rigidities of minimalism and the cartoonish consumerism of pop. Like much of the art that came into being throughout the United States and Europe in the 1960s, its spirit reflected the broader youth culture from which it emerged, including street theater and other anti-elitist forms of expression and protest. Earth artists and political artists rebelled against the authoritarian nature of architecture and institutions; process artists challenged the need for art to have a fixed form; the arte povera artists sought to be materially free of formal orthodoxies. Most of the arte povera artists began as painters and, as their artistic positions coalesced, they rejected the formal rigidities and limits of painting and found freedom from artistic convention in three-dimensional, often multimedia work. These ranged from happenings to sculptures made from everyday materials, with an interest in the physical interaction between viewer and work, and the relationship between life and art, between seeing and thinking.

Among artists typically associated with arte povera, those represented in the Dallas Museum of Art collection are Mario Merz, Alighiero Boetti, and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Drawn from

  • Allan Schwartzman, "From a Prehistoric Wind," in Fast forward: contemporary collections for the Dallas Museum of Art, eds. María de Corral and John R. Lane (Dallas Museum of Art ; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), 158-165.

  • A History of Italian Art in the 20th Century. Sandra Pinto, ed. Milan: Skira, 2002.

  • Nancy Spector, "Mario Merz, Tasmania," n.d., in Education files.

Related Multimedia

Gallery talk by Eliel Jones, McDermott Intern for Visitor and Community Engagement, DMA

Web Resources