Art Povera means literally ‘poor art’ but the word poor here refers to the movement’s signature exploration of a wide range of materials beyond the quasi-precious traditional ones of oil paint on canvas, bronze, or carved marble. Materials used by the artists included soil, rags and twigs. In using such throwaway materials they aimed to challenge and disrupt the values of the commercialized contemporary gallery system.
The term was introduced by the Italian art critic and curator, Germano Celant, in 1967. He used it to denote an art made without restraints, a laboratory situation in which any theoretical basis was rejected in favour of a complete openness towards materials and processes. His pioneering texts and a series of key exhibitions provided a collective identity for a number of young Italian artists based in Turin, Milan, Genoa and Rome. Arte Povera emerged from within a network of urban cultural activity in these cities, as the Italian economic miracle of the immediate post-war years collapsed into a chaos of economic and political instability.