Posts tagged Arte Povera
THEORY STUDY: GUISEPPE PENONE'S ARTE POVERA - MANIPULATED NATURE
Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

I went to Rome for the weekend after visiting some factories in Italy recently. Although extremely beautiful, being alone in Rome was fairly boring except my time at the Fendi HQ on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to me, Fendi actually plays a big role in modern Rome, having paid to restore the Trevi Fountain and taking up headquarters in a building Romans call the 'Square Coliseum.' Locals call the building this because of its classical Roman arches in an otherwise modern rectangular buildingThe building formally known as the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was commissioned by Mussolini, and is a bit of a controversial building on its own given its fascist origins. Designed by architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano, the travertine marble building was intended to be the centerpiece of Mussolini's new Roman empire, but was abandoned after WWII. The building was essentially in disrepair until Fendi took on restoring it in 2015.

Being so bored in Rome got my wheels turning, "what else is there in this great city besides tourist attractions that I can do without knowing any locals? And then it hit me that some Arte Povera artists lived and worked in Rome! After asking around for anything Arte Povera, I was instructed to go to the Fendi HQ to both see the amazingly rehabilitated building and to see Guiseppe Penone's exhibition that is on display on the ground floor of the building.

A long cab ride into what appeared to be 'normal Rome,' ie not touristy or super-duper old, and probably where a majority of Romans live, I reached the monumental building. It seemed like it was five stories in the air, just on the ground level. I entered through the marble stairs and was greeted by one of Penone's trees.

Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

Having recently moved to New York, I actually thought the tree was just a sad winter tree like so many I see in my city, but upon closer inspection, I realized that there were metal pipes and sculptural elements in the 'tree.' Admittedly, my heart raced a little faster once I realized I was looking at Penone's work. There's something so exciting about experiencing something in real life that was once only experienced through the internet.

In the main foyer of the building, I entered the exhibition area where I was immediately confronted by Penone's Soffio di Foglie, or 'Breath of Leaves.' The current exhibition at Fendi is just a recreation of Penone's original, but I presumed that the impression of the human body in the pile of myrtle leaves was created by Penone. My mind went to the images I had seen of his body on the leaves in 1979. I missed that moment in time, but the pile here in 2017 excited me. (Funny how a pile of leaves can do that).

Arte Povera, the genre to which Penone's work belongs, literally means poor art. It is exclusively Italian, and a reaction to the high production and high price ticket art of the post-modern era. Using common objects (such as leaves and trees in Penone's case), Italian artists worked to both criticize contemporary art and to create a new genre. 

You can see a brief essay I wrote on Arte Povera here.

Observing Penone's work in such an environment was paradoxical to me, and after I looked at the pile of leaves for a while, I burst out in laughter (thank goodness I was the one of two others visiting at the time). Being in a Mousollini commissioned building that is now operated by luxury brand Fendi is the antithesis of 'povera.' The whole thing seemed ridiculous to me for a moment, but I suppose since arte povera's conception, a gallery setting in and of itself undermines the driving force behind the artwork. And I think that's ok because no matter what the reason it's being made, art really should be for the people, and the first step to getting it there is for it to exhibit in a gallery. Plus artists deserve to have their work exhibited in a respectable place.

Fortunately, the Fendi exhibition was free to enter, so I let my mental tangent stop there. Beyond 'Breath of Leaves' were sculptures of tree forms, holding what looks like pieces of Roman ruins. Penone often examines the tension between humanity and nature, and these pieces fit very well with my experience of Rome where ruins would literally have been engulfed by nature were it not for humans actively manicuring the growth.

Below: Fendi

Below: Fendi

 
Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

 

There was also a black polyptich (top left) comprised of four panels painted black with with graphite haphazardly drawn all over. As I looked at it in amazement, I also recalled a time in my life where I might have thought, "I could have made this." The drawing was seemingly aimless, representing some kind of scales on an animal or maybe the surface of a water worn rock, with solid painted boards that take no real skill. But nowadays I understand that I couldn't have made it, one because I wouldn't have thought of it (most importantly), and two, I didn't make it, Penone did, and if I had used the same materials and had the same objective, my work would have resulted in something completely different.

At the time when Arte Povera was first exhibited, it is said that many critics didn't consider it art. A pile of rocks, sticks and other natural objects especially repulsed lovers of so-called high art, where there tended to be a preference for modern materials such as lucite, acrylic and plaster in sculptures, which is exactly why I look to Arte Povera so often.

Fashion is so overtly made by people of privilege, and it reinforces class structures just by virtue of its cost, and though Bagtazo may not use as common of materials as Arte Povera artists did/do, I like to think of my entire brand mission to be a big 'fuck you' to the mainstream fashion world, so thanks for reading along as I explore my heroes.

Beyond the first section of the exhibition, I found a sparse forest of pillars and a felled Penone tree. I really enjoyed this section, as it seemed to be created for the space. The wood-like glossy stone floors and the stark white gallery walls coordinated with the real wood with rich color variation, made to sit on pillars or plaster looking bases made me feel like I was in a reverse-city setting. Usually human manipulated natural materials creates at least a village-like if not urban environment, but in this case, the natural objects were manipulated to create a man-made natural environment.

Another blurry shot from my iphone

Another blurry shot from my iphone

In the second room, one of my favorite pieces lines the wall: Penone's series of self portraits where he made the same expression but changed out reflective contact lenses in some of them. Between my love for repetition, self portraits (not to be confused with selfies), and the subtly of the contact lenses, the photos kept my attention for close to a half hour... I basically just slowly walked past each one, stepped back, look at the series as a whole, went back to inspect each individual photo, etc.

Also, I mean, look how hot he looks:

 
Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

 

Also in the center of the second room is a hollowed out tree with many broken branches. It reminded me of a canoe or for some reason, a parody of the table used in the Last Supper. 

Maybe because Penone grew up in the wooded town of Gargessio, Italy, Penone's work focuses on the connection between humanity and nature. Through this lens, he manipulates nature (much like we do as humans in general), but he keeps much of the natural integrity of his medium, which often deceives the viewer. Like when I mistakenly thought the tree outside was a sad winter tree, for example.

I'm not totally sure what he 'means' by creating any of these things, as I haven't read any interviews or know if he has ever explained his work in terms of meaning to anyone, but I do enjoy considering how keeping the integrity of the natural materials he works with makes me think and feel.

So anyway, if you're in Rome soon, I highly recommend visiting Fendi HQ.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

All images not credited, or clearly the artist's original work, were taken on my phone.

How to Spend it, Fendi Salutes Giuseppe Penone in a New Exhibition.

Yaetzer, Natural Affinities: Fendi Hosts First Contemporary Art Show in Rome Showcasing Works by Giuseppe Penone.

 


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SOCIAL STUDY: ARTE POVERA & ART AS COMMODITY

I find myself growing increasingly disturbed by the commercialization of "the alternative." What was once non-conformist has become totally generic. There is now a Williamsburg in every city. Newly 'revived' places considered desirable because they are 'eclectic and liberal' have become the familiar. We've returned to a time where Americans believe that looking and behaving a certain way will make them happy. But instead of a having a nuclear family and a white picket fence, we're all "creative," we eat at hip places, we travel, we wear vintage, we buy artisanal everything

Of course this cultural phenomenon is a reaction to mass production and the utter destruction that the past few decades have inflicted upon humanity and the environment, but we've effectively replaced a blind acceptance of Betty Crocker products with a blind acceptance of gluten free products. Only I find it worse now, because today we all know that advertising plays into our subconscious, we know that everyone's internet lives are curated, and yet we consume the new standard, believing that doing so can make us 'different' from 'everyone else.' (Not to mention tons of people and brands are simply repeating the work of others and parading as if they're original).

And yes, farm to table restaurants and organic foods are wonderful, it's important that we consume more consciously, but I'm starting to think modern society is a throwback to the 1950s, but this time around everyone's in indigo; and consumption, though less corporate, is far more commercial because we're all a brand. We're all patrons of propaganda. Nearly everyone has a website. 'The individual' is a consumer product, and quite frankly I'm calling everyone's bluff (hence the rant). But instead of getting too upset and turning on humanity, I've decided to study a period in history where similar sentiments were turned into art.

"Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form," Arte Povera Group Exhibition, Bern, 1969

When thinking of artwork that reacts to my current woes, Germano Celant's "Manifesto" for the Arte Povera movement comes to mind. In the manifesto titled, Arte Povera: Appunti per una Guerriglia (Notes for a Guerrilla War), the opening lines state, “First came man, then the system. That is the way it used to be. Now it’s society that produces, and it’s man that consumes.” Using language that was political and revolutionary in nature, Marx and a "rejection of consumerism," Celant's manifesto was a social critique. This manfiesto was first published in Flash Art magazine in 1967, after the group's first show, and is now considered to be the launch of the short-lived Arte Povera movement in Italy, a movement which lasted through 1972.

The name 'Arte Povera' literally means "poor art," and was adopted because the artists worked as a group to counter 'high art,' criticize capitalism, class struggle, and the commercialization of fine art by using "poor mediums."  At a time when art was being produced in an industrial fashion (think graphic design techniques used in pop art processes, for example), and abstract minimalism had overstayed its welcome, dominating the market to the point where it was no longer cutting edge, but had become palatable for every day consumption, postminimalist artists emerged in Europe and the US.

During this time, Arte Povera artists made use of ordinary objects such as rope, plaster, metal, soil and wood as mediums, shying away from traditional, rigid art forms, since the latter were thought to be concerned with emotion and individual expression. In a sense, this movement was Italy's specific type of postminimalism because performance, process and land art were applied to create installations, but how they differed from artists working with similar mediums and likeminded agendas elsewhere, was that Arte Povera emphasized the rejection of consumerism and the branding of the artist.

L-R: "Shaman Showman," Alighiero Boetti, 1968; "Che Prendo il Sole" (I sunbathe), Alighiero Boetti, 1969;  "Che Fare?" (What to Do?), Mario Merz, 1968; "Igloo di Giap," Mario Merz, 1968, reads: If the enemy concentrates, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses force.

In effort to curb the emphasis on the individual, Arte Povera exhibitions were formatted in such a way that it was difficult to distinguish each artist's work, completely undermining the conventional gallery format that traditionally brands an artist to make their work ready for consumption. With interest in creating a dialogue between art and the viewer, where the viewer is free of preconceived notions, the Arte Povera exhibitions aimed to form a different experience of the art on display. By using familiar, everyday materials in a gallery setting, this goal was further solidified. Hence viewers were left with only the materials, the forms in which the materials were put together, and often, words one would otherwise find in combat or revolution propaganda, without being spoon fed the meaning, the need to consume the art, or branded artists.

"Muretto di Stracci," (Wall of Rags) & "Venere Degli Stracci," (Venus of the Rags) 1967 Michelangelo Pistoletto 

While it is difficult to say whether or not Arte Povera's attempt to remove a brand from their art was achieved, (I mean, they gave it a name and worked within certain parameters), I think it is more important to overlook the trend of the "fly on the wall" method that most artists and academics were adopting at the time, to focus on Arte Povera's call for attention to consumerism and branding in general. Considering Arte Povera was in a sense, a reaction to the homogeneity of the Post-War West that went on in the 1950s, I think my comparison of our society today with the 1950s again shows a need for awareness of the blind consumerism and branding our society participates in currently. 

Bagtazo isn't a brand. It's a name I have given to the work I create. And while the aim is to make a living from my work, I've been really giving thought to how I would like to go about doing that moving forward. Because ultimately the success of Bagtazo relies on you. The consumer. I can make beautiful things, but I can't live from making them without you.

At a time when so many people have 'start ups,' the economy is basically in the hands of the people in a way that it hasn't been in the past 50 years or more. So maybe if we put a little thought into how we're consuming, how we're selling (and let's take it beyond caring where it's made or buying into the ubiquitous stories people tell up about how the brand was born from sunshine or some heritage nonsense) and really put some thought into how and what we're consuming, perhaps we can insight the revolutionary air of the 1960s once more. After all, I feel like we've been living in the 50s lately, so maybe there's only one place to go from here... who knows.

"Artist's Shit," 1961 Piero Manzoni


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2015