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Around the arte povera

“It would be a shame not to respond to this beautiful invitation from the BAL and the Jeu de Paume, associated for the occasion: a plunge into “the dazzling Italian artistic effervescence of the 1960s and 1970s” through 250 works by some fifty artists affiliated with the “alternative avant-garde to the pop proposal and conceptual iconoclasm” that was arte povera.

Redoubling the object of desire; making the absence real, distorting this absence; emptying, inverting, cutting, obliterating… inhabiting the image… The revolution of the look operated by the artists of the Italian avant-garde gravitating around the arte povera in the years 1960-1970 was considerable. It is not surprising also to see its heritage appearing in a very significant way in the new photographic practices, making of the medium a plastic material in itself (freed from any function of representation).

Contrary to pop art, the arte povera (an expression which appears under the pen of an art critic in 1967) called for a simplification of art, as much in the “poor” materials used as in its language, reduced to its simplest elements, which had to be in direct connection with the life, through the body, essentially. “Art and life are accomplices” then, and through the multiplication of the actions in the street, videos and other performances operate a true fusion. Art of the body (active, put in scene, filmed, theatricalized…), the arte povera was thus to be an art of the image. However, beyond its documentary role, of recording the performances, it will make it also its revolution. At the heart of this refoundation of art, of this renewal of the pictorial language orchestrated by the movement of the arte povera, the image (photography, film or video) was a true “tool of liberation of the vision,” said the director of the BAL during the inauguration of the exhibition. 

A revolution of the gaze that summarizes the title of the exhibition (Reverse your eyes), borrowed from a series of self-portraits made by Giuseppe Penone in 1970: staging himself frontally or posted in the landscape, equipped with a contact-lenses mirror, he allows us to see the image of a reflection while blinding … Disturbing mise en abîme of the image and its loss, making the border between the seer and the blind porous: What do we see? The landscape or its subjective interpretation? What do we see? A face, the other… or ourselves? 

“The mirror pushes us forward, in the future of the images to come, and at the same time it pushes us back in the direction where the photographic image arrives, that is to say in the past,” says Michelangelo Pistoletto, who, with his famous paintings-mirrors, was undoubtedly one of the first to “violate the space of the painting,” to “disturb this pictorial autonomy of the work” making its authority, by forcing the spectator to enter, and thus the life, in the work…

It is, moreover, a true crossing of the work that Giovanni Anselmo operates by spanning a slope under the eye of the camera, fixing the landscape in an oversized all-over, making it leave the real scale to literally enter in the work (Entrare nell’opera, 1971 1). 

Michelangelo Pistoletto proposes to take possession of the pictorial space with his paintings-mirrors, as well as with his hollowed-out portraits (The Ears of Jasper Johns, 1966). Participating in a form of “deconstruction of the photography,” the series of the Verifications (Le Verifiche, 1968-1972) of Ugo Mulas puts in scene, as for it, the artifices of the image. 

A reflection on “the authority of the photography” for the least of actuality, which will lead a number of artists of the movement, by games of detour, superimpositions, of frame in the frame, of image of image, to bring out the materiality of the photography and even to put it in the foreground to make of it the material of the work. Taking thus the fragility of the image to its own trap, Claudio Parmiggiani, in his series of works-shadows, reduces the object, supposedly “delocalized” (Delocazione), to its trace: self-portrait reduced to the shadow of a silhouette, canvas allowing only the trace on the wall of a disappeared painting … We see here all the poetry of the gesture playing with the frail border between the visible and the invisible at the origin of photography and the paradox of the image “[using] the photographic medium, art of the presence, to ratify, to make ‘visible’ the disappearance of the represented object and its author.”  

See focus / work Acumen #28

Reversing the eyes Around the arte povera 

At the BAL and the Jeu de Paume

Until January 29th

Credits ©

@Michelangelo Pistoletto

@Carlo Favero

@Paolo Gioli

@Gino De Dominicis

@Paolo Vandrasch

@Luca Maria Patella

Stéphanie Dulout