See Arte Povera masterworks at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

Text and photos by Alain Zedrick Camiling

A walk through Arte Povera: Italian Landscape at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila immerses one in an environment filled with commonplace objects. From everyday items such as clothing, textile, and nylon string, to natural elements such as rocks, soil, and plants, the exhibition makes a spectacle of the all-too-familiar.

An Italian phrase for ‘poor art,’ the term Arte Povera was coined by curator Germano Celant in 1967. Employing raw materials such as rags, sacks, coal, sand, soil, and wood, as well as manufactured items such as glass and metal, avant-garde artists (based in Turin, Milan, Genoa, and Rome) sought to contrast the new with the old, the highly procesed with the pre-industrial.

(CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) "Orchestra of Rags" by Michelangelo Pistoletti; "Europe 11 November 2015" by Francesco Arena; "Tube to Place Among Flowers" by Luciano Fabro; "Stella per purificare le parole" by Gilberto Zorio

Their works subtly critiqued industrialization, moderniza-tion, and consumer culture in Italy at the time. Breaking away from modernity to go back to tradition, the artists nevertheless tested the limits of traditional practices and materials. While Arte Povera saw its heyday from 1967-1972, the movement has made a lasting impact on the development of Conceptual Art, Mono-ha, Anti-form, Post-Minimalism, Assemblage, and Performance Art, among others.

Danilo Eccher with "Untitled" by Mario Merz.

To exhibition curator Danilo Eccher, Arte Povera was not just a movement, but also a philosophy: “[Arte Povera] is the most important movement of art in Italy in the second half of 20th century, and it is one of the most important movements of art in the world as [artists] broke every rule about art—language, material, and ideas on organizing [and making] their art.”

A first in Asia, viewers get to see firsthand some of the most important Arte Povera works by artists who gave birth to the move-ment such as Jannis Kounellis, Marisa Merz, Mario Merz, Giovanni Anselmo, Luciano Fabro, Giuseppe Penone, Alighiero Boetti, Michelanglo Pistoletto, Gilberto Zorio, and Pier Paolo Calzolari, with two artists from  a younger generation: Francesco Arena and Gianni Caravaggio.

"Orchestra of Rags" by Michelangelo Pistoletti;

Italian Ambassador Giorgio Guglielmino touched on the immersive experience of the exhibit: “In an age of globalization where you can go to your computer and see works everywhere in the world, it is even more important to face the works in the flesh. The impact works like these give you, when you walk through them, is something…no computer screen can give you.”

Focusing on the materiality of everyday life through the use of humble materials and found objects, the exhibition pays tribute to Arte Povera’s role in pushing the boundaries of art and finding new ways to engage with the audience. The movement has left a mark in art history as a breakthrough moment for artists to explore the mundane and translate it into novel installations and sculptures embedded with socio-political narratives. Some works are specifically dedicated to the Philip-pines, using soil and plants sourced from the Metropolitan Museum compound.

Don’t miss the chance to see and experience Italian contemporary art with Arte Povera: Italian Landscape, on display at the Tall Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila until April 30, 2020. The exhibition is co-presented by Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Security Bank Corporation, and The Embassy of Italy in Manila.

Franchesca Lesaca

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