Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera
Lévy Gorvy, New York
November 2 - December 23, 2017
The genesis of the Arte Povera movement is, in many ways, inseparable from the history of Ileana Sonnabend’s legendary gallery. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the movement’s inception, Lévy Gorvy presented Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera (2017). Curated by the renowned art historian and Arte Povera forefather Germano Celant, this exhibition was the first to investigate Ileana Sonnabend’s central role in the international reception of Arte Povera, and the close friendship between Celant and Sonnabend that grew out of their shared interest in the movement’s Italian artists.
The exhibition included works by Giovanni Anselmo, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Gilberto Zorio—most of which Sonnabend originally displayed in her New York or Paris galleries. Arte Povera, or “poor art,” began in 1967 with a small group of young artists in Bologna, Genoa, Rome and Turin. They were noticed by Celant, who gave the artists a name and mission in his text “Arte Povera: Notes for a Guerilla Warfare,” published in Flash Art in November 1967. Although the artists were interested in new possibilities for international exchange and collaboration from the beginning, they purposefully set themselves against the hegemonic American art of the time, particularly Minimalism, which they considered impersonal—and the materialist sensibilities of both Optical Art and Pop Art. Indeed, Celant positioned the movement as an insurrection and its artists as radicals. The artists of Arte Povera engaged with the politics of representation and the labor structure in postwar Italy, often with subversive, wry wit. Recognizing the revolutionary potential of these “poor” artworks, Sonnabend introduced Arte Povera to the American art world through a series of influential exhibitions.