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Historical and contextual background

Italy, late 1960s: after a period of rapid industrialization and economic growth, known as economic boom or Italian economic miracle, Italy has to deal with a recession and the country passes from the optimism that had characterized previous years to a kind of skepticism and a sense of insecurity.
As was happening in other European countries and in the United States, also in Italy the tension grows and an increasing number of students and workers put up a struggle against this new consumer society, against the market and the capitalist world.
Certainly, also the artistic environment is affected by these historical, political and cultural events that follow each other in those years.
Undoubtedly in Italy the artistic situation is fluid, especially in cities like Turin, Rome and Amalfi – the place of the exhibition Arte Povera + Azioni Povere in October 1968 – due to the movement of artists and new ideas derived mostly from the spread of the American Pop Art.

Nevertheless, the trend that characterizes Italy between the end of the Sixties and the early Seventies is certainly the Arte Povera,
label purely coined by Germano Celant in 1967[1] to identify and group together some artists (among others Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounellis etc.) working with “poor” materials by definition such as soil, wood, iron, rags, plastics, industrial waste, with the desire to create an original expression, using an alphabet made of these materials, disused after losing the ability to perform the task for which they were intended, and using more and more the techniques of the installation and performance.

The choice of the term Arte Povera refers to the lexicon of the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, who had proposed – since the beginning of the Sixties – the establishment of a “poor theatre” based on the elimination of the unnecessary components for the representation such as make-up, stage, lighting, sound effects and on the involvement of the audience.
Each of the artists included in the group by Celant has its own peculiarities, and that of Michelangelo Pistoletto – artist studied for my MA dissertation – has always been the will to investigate the individual’s relationship with the surrounding reality, in line with
Allan Kaprow’s quote “The line between the Happening and daily life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.”[2]

This opening to reality, the breaking of barriers between public and private space and the shift from the individual perspective to the mportance of the group, is Pistoletto’s turning point towards collaboration.
In fact, from the winter of 1967-68, with the opening of the studio and the exhibition at Fabio Sargentini’s L’Attico in Rome (1968), the artist starts to interpret the space as a possible meeting place for poets, musicians, artists and also for people not strictly related to artistic practices: some of whom then join him to form The Zoo: the group in activity from 1968 to 1970.

These experiences could be compared to the contemporary experimentation of the avant-garde theatre during the late Sixties and Seventies (especially those by Jerzy Grotowski, The Living Theatre, The Bread and Puppet Theatre, The Odin Teatret).
On examination emerges that such experiences have in common the desire to bring together art and everyday life: to do this, they come out from the representative space to involve people not necessarily related to the artistic circles, but in fact materialize the desire to reach as many people as possible to stimulate in them a reflection on contemporary society.
This aim is achieved through the use of traditional and well-known popular themes, immediately understandable from the audience.
This fact is not only a symptom of the desire to break down the barriers between disciplines, but also the will of these artists to initiate a process of “democratization” of art, as these representations are staged in a way that can be interpreted in several levels.

[1] CELANT G., Notes for a Guerrilla Wars, in “Flash Art” n. 5, november – december 1967

[2]KAPROW A., The Happenings Are Dead: Long Live the Happenings!, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993, p.62


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