I was thinking about Arte Povera, and the Smithsonian, and the politics of museums, and a number of other interconnected ideas, when I suddenly wanted to know the name of an installation I saw at the Hirschhorn about ten years ago. It involved rags and wrinkled clothing in piles and I remember it leaving such an impression on me; I felt like I understood both the immense waste of Western culture and the siren song of materialism for the first time. A fairly recent exhibition at the Tate (that I sadly missed) summed up the movement nicely:
As the Italian miracle of the post-war years collapsed into a chaos of economic and political instability, Arte Povera erupted from within a network of urban cultural activity. This exhibition encompasses a decade that opened with the birth of this energetic scene and closed with the emergence of these artists as individuals of significance within an international arena.
As opposed to endorsing a distinctive style, Arte Povera described a process of open-ended experimentation. In the wake of the iconoclastic artistic innovations of Italian precursors Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, artists were able to begin from a zero point, working outside formal limitations. Arte Povera therefore denotes not an impoverished art, but an art made without restraints, a laboratory situation in which a theoretical basis was rejected in favour of a complete openness towards materials and processes.
The artists associated with Arte Povera worked in many different ways. They painted, sculpted, took photographs and made performances and installations, creating works of immense physical presence as well as small-scale, ephemeral gestures. They employed materials both ancient and modern, man-made and 'raw', revealing the elemental forces locked within them as well as the fields of energy that surround us. They explored the context of art-making itself, and the space of the gallery, as well as the world beyond the gallery, reflecting on the relationship between art and life. Essentially, they placed the viewer at the centre of a discussion about experience and meaning.
I was looking on the Hirshhorn website, and I found that you can search for all sort of criteria: "American Eccentrics" (Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, and 95 other examples) was the best I came across. I started searching by "Italian" for artist nationality since Arte Povera wasn't an option, which is how I came across Futurist Giacomo Balla's positively divine flower sculptures, seen here. And I just love them. Looking at them makes me feel rather optimistic, and conjures thoughts of spring, as proper futurist flowers should!
I am having my own little tour of the work by Italian artists represented in the collection tonight! Other faves: a Vanessa Beecroft photo, a sculpture by Giacomo Manzu, Giorgio Morandi's Still Life With Flask, a Modigliani bust, but of course...
Related: 5 Things Tyler Green of the excellent Modern Art Notes blog would change about the art scene in his hometown of DC (and mine, too). Hmmm, the Corcoran really does kindof suck, doesn't it?
The fashion line People Used to Dream About the Future.