Even still, several of the works evinced, and still retain, a sense of chance within
the bounds of their formal and conceptual premise. Mounted in the Arsenale, Pistoletto’s Candles
(1967)—featuring dozens of lit candles placed along a reflective strip—still changes with each installation, the light of each wick flickering against their Mylar base. The large bowl of ’s Untitled
(1968), for example, bears powdered sulfur, iron shavings, and a magnet, in what was plainly conceived as an interactive work defiant of any fixed form. If Marotta’s hay installation in the streets of Amalfi has long since disappeared, Merz’s 1968 Untitled
—with its stack of hay bales mounted by a single rod of neon light—recalls that contemporary intervention and something of its sensory dimensions (the musty smell of hay, the wayward curl of dried blades).
(1967) entails the use of relatively unorthodox materials, purposefully redolent of archaic, even “primitivist” culture and craft. Like Merz and Marotta, and the Puglia-born artist
(who died in a motorcycle crash just one month before “Arte Povera + Azioni Povere”), many artists involved in Arte Povera (but not necessarily on its roster, like Piero Gilardi) consistently engaged with aspects of Italy’s regional and vernacular culture. This engagement aimed to resist the increasingly consumerist and technocratic elements that had seized post-war Italian culture since the “economic miracle” peaked in the early 1960s. Parallel to the work of poet-director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who celebrated Italy’s subproletariat and southern communities for their exclusion from official culture, many contemporary artists turned to Italy’s south—long seen as “backward” and undeveloped—as a new aesthetic model, precisely in its resistance to the logic of capitalist time.
In addition to its professed affinity with (proverbial) poverty, the very title of “Arte Povera + Azioni Povere” aimed to conflate the coordinates of exhibition and experience—a conflation that significantly influenced two major events of 1969: “When Attitudes Become Form,” curated by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern; and “Op Losse Schroeven” (“On Loose Screws”), curated by Wim Beeren at the Stedelijk Museum
. Both exhibitions featured not only installations, but a series of performative interventions by artists. Marcello Rumma died suddenly and tragically the following year, in 1970. Yet he had already founded Rumma Edizioni, a press dedicated to the critical documentation of contemporary aesthetic problems, while his wife went on to found Lia Rumma Gallery
in Naples. The couple’s extensive archive, meanwhile, offers vital insights into “Arte Povera + Azioni Povere” and its legacies. The numerous photographs taken by Bruno Manconi of the Arsenale and its environs afford a compelling reconstruction not simply of objects as they sat on display, but of the activities by artists, critics, and visitors that brought them alive.