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Currently reading: Carloyn Christov-Bakargiev (ed.) – Arte Povera (1991) Phaidon, London.

“Arte Povera literally translated means ‘poor art’ but does not refer solely to the poorness of materials.2 (p.16)

Whilst Arte Povera may have set a precedent for the kinds of approaches of some artists working with rubbish today, only a few Arte Povera artists used waste and discards directly in their work, notably Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Piero Manzoni if he is to be included in the movement. Others did employ everyday/readymade materials such as Pino Pascali’s use of acrylic and steel wool in Vedova Blu [Blue Widow] (1968) and Alighiero Boetti’s use of cardboard pastry bases in Colonne [Columns] (1968) but materials were more commonly ubiquitous, industrial and cheap, or sometimes traditional sculptural materials in order to comment on those traditions.

In the chapter entitled Survey, Christov-Bakargiev defines Arte Povera:

“The term ‘Arte Povera’ initially referred not to the use of ‘poor’ materials, nor to a sociological critique of consumer society, but to the concept of ‘impoverishing’ each person’s experience of the world; this implies gradually freeing one’s consciousness from layers of ideological and theoretical preconceptions as well as from the norms and rules of the language of representation and fiction.” (p.22)

“It was Arte Povera’s affirmation of the vital importance of subjectivity in the process of experiencing the world that ushered in an art that, if not directly anthropomorphic, was clearly about the body and its experience; but because the focus was on real life and not artificial representation, the work had to be decentred from the figurative or presentational bodily reference. The result was that it often referred to the places we make for our bodies.” (p.46)

Arte Povera drew attention to process and to the historical and cultural significance of signs, attitudes ans objects.

Pistoletto’s 1967 work Venus of Rags featured used rags.

Michelangelo Pistoletto – Venere degli stracci [Venus of the rags] (1967) mica, cement, rags. Statue h.130cm

“The first version of this work [1967] was a mica and cement reproduction of the classical Callipigia Venus facing a heap of rags of various colours, which had been used by Pistoletto to clean his mirror paintings. Two further versions Venere degli stracci and Venere degli stracci dorata [Golden Venus of the Rags] 1967-71 were created from a plaster cast of the original. He later made others in marble and, in 1982, in polyurethane covered in fibreglass.”

In an unpublished artist’s statement in 1977, Pistoletto instructed: “In the various existing versions of the Venus, or the re-installation, you can use the same original rags or you can change them, but they must maintain their multi-coloured and ruffled character. One of the plaster Venuses of 1967 was broken. My project is to put the pieces together leaving the signs of breakage evident, like the tears in the rags.”