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Answers to Italian influences

A new show at the Estorick in Canonbury looks at what Poor Art | Arte Povera, which arose at a time of radical experimentation in the late 1960s, has meant to British artists

02 November, 2017 — By John Evans

Jo Stockham, Cannon, 1989, fabric, steel, dartboard frames, wood, 106 x 42 x 39cm. Courtesy the artist

The sign reads: this artwork is very fragile, and it is accompanied by the plea: “Do not touch or remove sheets.”

It’s in the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art’s current show and refers to an exhibit by Ceal Floyer, entitled Page 8680 of 8680. It’s a pile of A4 paper which, when exhibited in Berlin in 2011, drew the note from the gallery there that it: “evokes connotations of a print works, perhaps a heap of forgotten notes, information. Your curiosity draws you close, and all you read is digits, an indication of how many pages might make up this sculpture. Or is it?”

Ceal Floyer, Ladder, 2010, modified aluminium ladder 279 x 37.5 x 5cm. Courtesy the artist, 303 Gallery New York, Lisson Gallery London, Esther Schipper Berlin

Floyer’s Ladder, 2010, which has obviously been “deprived of its original function” is featured in the neighbouring gallery at the Estorick just by Cannon, a by Jo Stockham, from 1989, made of fabric ( – trouser leg), steel, wood and, notably, dartboard frames for the wheels.

Elsewhere can be seen Small Gold Senza Titolo, 2012, by Gavin Turk, a work in 24ct gold leaf on acrylic on linen. This is in the form of a grid, and the 36 squares are each given a letter which, vertically add up to four GAVINTURKs.

 

Gavin Turk, Small Gold Senza Titolo, 2012, 24ct gold leaf on acrylic on linen, 29.5 x 29.5 x 3.3cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, London

So what has all this to do with Italy? Well, the show is entitled Poor Art | Arte Povera: Italian Influences, British Responses.

As the organisers note, Arte Povera arose at a time of profound social and economic change and radical artistic experimen­tation in the tumult of the late 1960s; and referred to a “loose association” of Italian artists, mostly working in Turin and Rome. It challenged established views of art and, especially, the nature of its relationship with commerce.

“With its startling openness to a wide range of processes and materials Arte Povera became, in international terms, the most influential development in Italian art in the late 20th century,” say the organisers.

Estorick director Roberta Cremoncini says that half-a-century on from the first Arte Povera exhibition in Genoa: “It is interesting now to explore further the impact of this particular movement on a generation of British artists.”

The exhibition looks at how it informed the work of 12 who graduated from art schools in the 1970s and 1980s. So works by Floyer, Stockham, Turk, Eric Bainbridge, Tony Cragg, Anya Gallaccio, Mona Hatoum, Jefford Horrigan, Stephen Nelson, Lucy Skaer, Gary Stevens, and Richard Long can be seen alongside those by Italians including Alighiero Boetti, Mario Ceroli, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, Giuseppe Penone and Gilberto Zorio.

Mario Ceroli, Io, 1968, iron and coal, 92cm diameter, private collection, Florence, courtesy Tornabuoni Art

It examines a way of working that’s been seen as going beyond modernism, as a rejection of a coherent styles, and as aiming for some new artistic freedom.

Practically what this means in this show is a truly eclectic mix of individual styles and mix of quality, yet with each artwork entirely engaging for the visitor.

In the Estorick show catalogue, Nottingham University expert Roberta Minnucci says the Genoa exhibition, presented by a young critic, Germano Celant, he had champ­ioned “a new kind of art concerned with ‘taking away, eliminating, downgrading things to a minimum, impoverishing signs to reduce them to their archetypes’… Celant’s notion of poverty was also intended as a polemic against American Pop Art, which was seen as an uncritical celebra­tion of contemporary mass-consumption society.”

Home highlights include a video of Hartoum plodding along the pavement in Brixton, dragging a couple of old boots, and Skaer’s stacks of copper ingots.

For Italy there is Merz’s large willow cone and Ceroli’s Io, an iron sphere with coal, both of which date from 1968.

• Poor Art | Arte Povera: Italian Influences, British Responses runs until December 17 at the Estorick, Canonbury Square, N1, estorickcollection.com

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