ABSTRACT

In November 1969, as students rallied in protests, and demonstrations against American military intervention in Vietnam erupted in America and across Europe, the 29-year-old Italian art critic Germano Celant launched Arte Povera on both sides of the Atlantic. 1 He did so through a manifesto-style book, which he released simultaneously in three languages and in four countries: Italy, West Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 2 Published by Praeger with the title Art Povera, most significantly, the American edition introduced the movement and the author himself to the United States for the first time. (To avoid confusion, I use the italicized English title, Art Povera to indicate the 1969 book, and Arte Povera to indicate the Italian artists promoted by Celant with this name during the preceding two years. 3 ) Unlike previous shows and publications using the word “Povera” in the title, the new book included American and European artists who had already been categorized by other critics as part of: Land Art (or Earthworks), Conceptual Art, Anti-form, Process Art, or Post-Minimalism. 4 But Art Povera was the first survey in America – either in published or exhibition form – to assess these various groups comprehensively, to include artists working on both sides of the Atlantic, and to present them all as one and the same phenomenon. The book, in fact, ended up functioning as a Trojan horse, a kind of an infiltration strategy of conquest mostly aimed at promoting contemporary Italian art in America. As Celant's first enterprise outside of Italy, Art Povera initiated his long-term, almost obsessive, reflection on Italian identity in an international context and especially in the United States. 5