Art Movements Throughout History: Art Povera

Editorial credit: Claudio Divizia / This fountain was designed by famous Art Povera artists Mario Merz.

The Art Povera was an Italian art movement that was formed in the late 1960s and existed until early 1970s. The leader of the small group of artists was Germano Celant, an Italian artist, and critic, who was joined by other twelve artists whose aim was to challenge the political affairs of the day through art. "Arte Povera", which means "impoverished art" or "poor art" in Italian, was a movement inspired using non-traditional materials such as soil, clothing, rope, rock, and paper to create sculptures and other art forms. The group’s use of commonplace materials rather than oil or canvas was a distinguishing trait which was also a reaction against the mainstream painting that had dominated Europe in the 1950s.

Key Ideas And Characteristics

One of the main ideas of Art Povera was to challenge the contemporary gallery system that was rampant in Europe at the time. "Arte povera" allowed artists to express themselves without the restraint of conventional practices and materials. This was achieved while using unattractive everyday materials that were often displayed to create sculptures and events that people could relate to. Additionally, the use of simple artisanal materials helped create contrast with the more refined processed materials. The use of contrasting materials is found among the group’s most notable works. Germano Celant believed that modernity was a threat to the sense of memory and its influential past, and therefore creating contrast would help in the appreciation of the past.

In countering technological modernism, Art Povera rejected the ideals of modern art such as American minimalism and instead conjured myths of the new and old. This achieved juxtapositions while making it clear on the effects of modernity on the society in general.

By using everyday materials such as twigs, rags, soil, and rock, Art Povera was a reaction against the mainstream abstract painting that had dominated art forms of the period. The artists rejected modern painting and viewed it as a narrow channel of expressing individualism and emotions. They also viewed modern art as too confined and limited by traditions of conventional painting. The group advocated for an art that was more relatable to the normal life of physical things and the material world. To achieve this, the Italian artists employed the use of simple local materials that were obtained from the usual lifestyle.

Famous Works

The leading artists of this movement include Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis, Giovanni Anselmo, Emilio Prini, Luciano Fabro and Giovanni Anselmo.


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