Arte Povera: six documentaries (part one)

Francisca Parrino & Stefano Pirovano

The stars of Arte Povera portrayed in six documentaries, available for streaming thanks to a review curated in collaboration with Audiovisiva

In collaboration with Audiovisiva, an Italian educational platform that since 2021 has been making documentaries on art, architecture and design available for streaming, we are pleased to present the first part of Arte Povera: six documentaries, an online film festival dedicated to the protagonists of the most important Italian art movement of the last century, the only one to have had an effective international reach, that is, to have succeeded in bringing the artists who were part of it into the world’s most important public and private collections. Almost sixty years after the birth of Arte Povera, which occurred at a time that, as we will clarify in a paper we will soon publish, still awaits to be historically pinpointed, retracing the lives of some of its protagonists wants first of all to be a way to inspire the new generations of artists, who are undoubtedly the most important observers of that extraordinary convergence of talents. Indeed, in every time and region of the world, among the signs that reveal the importance of a certain artistic practice, is the ability of that practice to inspire those who come after, even in later years. Is it not great art that produces new art? Therefore, it is the artists of the present-every present-who also choose, with their masters, which past will become future. In this sense, the efficacy of cinematic language and the power of the moving image are certainly desirable allies in the service of the eyewitnesses. Enjoy.

Around Marisa. The works, friends and words of Marisa Merz.

Simona Confalonieri
Italy, 2013, 26′

Marisa Merz is a crucial figure in postwar Italian art and an eccentric voice in the contemporary art world. Arte Povera made its debut on the international art scene with her, the wife and artistic companion of Mario Merz. Her value is evident in the most important contemporary art museum collections in the world. Marisa is always there, with her personality, her irony, her works and her relationships. Her work has never ended. But she has never liked being photographed or on TV. The documentary recounts her domestic world, the original way she uses her time to meld her work with her life. We also hear Marisa’s voice for the first time. She tells us about herself and her work against the backdrop of her home studios in Turin and Milan and the exhibition that the Merz Foundation dedicated to her in 2012. Helping to tell Marisa’s story is a chorus of voices – friends, artists, art historians, curators and gallery owners – that have been an essential part of it.

Michelangelo Pistoletto

Daniele Segre
Italy, 2013, 60’

The unusual relationship between the director of reality cinema and the internationally renowned artist represents an important moment in Daniele Segre’s cinematographic career; a relationship that was born by chance in Turin at the Prix Italia press conference in September 2012 and that was strengthened during the filming at Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella in December 2012, finding a common point in the awareness of their mutual social commitment. During the 1990s, Michelangelo Pistoletto, with Progetto Arte and the creation in Biella of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto and the Università delle Idee, put art in active relation with the different spheres of the social fabric in order to inspire and produce a responsible transformation of society. In 2003, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. In 2004, the University of Turin awarded him an honorary degree in Political Science. On this occasion Pistoletto announced what constitutes the most recent phase of his work, called Third Paradise. In 2012, he became the promoter of Rebirth-day, the first universal day of rebirth, an initiative that gave rise to over a hundred events worldwide on 21 December. In 2013, the Louvre in Paris from April to September exhibited his solo show: Michelangelo Pistoletto, année un-le paradis sur terre.

Memories of fluid: Giuseppe Penone scultore

Giampaolo Penco
Italy, 2012, 60′

The beginning of the film is the recovery phase of construction and installation of a large public works in bronze for the GAM in Turin. The work is inaugurated by President Giorgio Napolitano at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. From here we start to talk about the work of the artist. From his works in recent years as ” Sculture di linfa” installation presented at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and is now the Maxxi in Rome, the “Albero delle vocali” in the garden of the Tuileries in Paris, a bronze tree, uprooted, which extends its branches on the soil surface, we’ll reach up the beginning, radical choices, opposition to the international culture of the time, that already flirted with the mode of consumption, the choice of working in the mountain village where he was born, Garessio, the charm of folk traditions that have their roots in the magic of this place and landscape. In Garessio remained the family home, his childhood in the mountain landscapes, the family experience (his grandfather a sculptor, his father a farmer), the international attention that his artistic action reached since the beginning of the early ’60s. In the middle is the core of his work: “any movement in space already contains all the characters of the sculpture. Breathing is sculpture as a fingerprint is a pictorial image. In my work I often make myself visible gesture that can normally be automatic, involuntary forms are related to the volume and the actions of our body. A gust of wind equals one breath. ” There are those who live and work with him, his family, the craftsmen and workers, those that shape his thinking, those who know him from the beginning, Germano Celant, those with whom there is a relationship of respect and collaboration as Daniel Soutif. There is the idea of identity, which is materialized in the impression, the contradiction of contemporary culture that encourages us to erase our identity, while art asks to affirm it. And then there’s nature, which coincides with the man, and the man who “flows” in nature.

Tutto su mio padre, Fabio Sargentini

Fabiana Sargentini
Italy, 2003, 41′

The film shot by Fabiana, Fabio Sargentini’s daughter, evokes the career of one of Italy’s most interesting gallery owners, and traces the history of L’Attico, the famous Roman gallery that hosted works and performances by Pascali, Kounellis, De Dominicis, Ontani, Merz, Lewitt, Oppenheim, Tinguely, Trisha Brown, Philip Glass and many others.


Walter Fasano
Italy, 2020, 60′

Rome, summer 1968. Pino Pascali, at the peak of a fulminating artistic career, dies very young in a motorbike accident. With him disappears one of the protagonists of an extraordinary creative season in Italian and international art. Fifty years later, the Pino Pascali Museum in Polignano a Mare, Pino’s homeland, bought and exhibited his work Cinque Bachi da Setola e un Bozzolo. The story of his return to the places of his origins is an opportunity for a reflection on Pascali in a narrative dimension in which space and time bend and erase.


Giampaolo Penco
Italy, 1997, 58′

Luciano Fabro is among the initiators of Arte Povera, of Aptico, of the Casa degli Artisti of Milan. His works are in the collections of Moma, Beaubourg and the Tate Gallery. The film follows Fabro to the Center Pompidou in ’96, to the Venice Biennale of ’97, to Basel, Milan and the Brera Academy.

When art, even if poor, delivers nobility to cinema

by Rossella e Pino Farinotti

Nothing is more natural than cinema being inspired by art. Natural because painting is noble art and cinema has yet to give itself a dimension in that sense. They say “seventh art”: indeed, there are six before it. Foreword. Masters against masters. In summary, guilty certainly: Kubrick, accepted and cultivated that higher nobility of figurative art, studying Mondrian in his “2001” and Gainsborough and Zoffany in Barry Lyndon. Dreyer reproduces Rembrandt in Dies Irae; Einsenstein is well aware of Golovin and Schwarz in Ivan the Terrible. Ford reclaims Remimgton in Wild Trails. Antonioni studied Rosenquist for Zabriskie Point. Herzog’s Nosferatu is a derivation of Friedrich. Giants of painting in partnership -with greater participation-with their counterparts in cinema. The tip of the iceberg, of course. And how not to mention Munch’s Scream, used everywhere, even in animation.

Thus, classical and noble art to inspire. Then “arte povera” burst in. It is related to conceptual art, it rejects traditional means of expression such as painting and sculpture and it employs “non-artistic”, poor materials, indeed. The elements are wood, stone, earth, rags, vegetables, plastics, neon lights, and industrial waste. A poverty that the founding artists (Gilardi, Pistoletto, Merz, Boetti, among the others) transformed into power and wealth. There are works, such as Merz’s Never Raised Stone on Stone, Pistoletto’s The Venus of Rags, Fabro’s Foot that fall into the category of art historical works.

Alighiero Boetti, Manifesto, 1967, offset print, cm100 x 70. Courtesy of Archivio Alighiero Boetti.

If you write about art and cinema, anarchy is legitimate, if you can motivate it and make sense of it. The lemma is: analogy.  The cinema of those sixties. The spur-of-the-moment and involuntary memory recalls the Nouvelle vague. Celant’s homologue is the critic André Bazin. The executor-directors are Godard, Touffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol, Resnais, Rivette. All people with a writing base. Animated by a violent revolutionary spirit that stemmed from a deep culture of the cinema discipline. Having moved from writing to directing, they believed they were twisting the meaning of storytelling: not a method of staging, of visually proposing a screenplay, but favouring writing, above all themselves as protagonists of “authorial” thought and dispensers of their own poetics, far from tradition and convention. They were all intelligent people capable of imagining different contents, quite so. But over time their proposal lost substance. The Nouvelle vague remains an invention that you go and discover if you attend a school and have to study cinema. Of course, that intelligence… does exist.

“Substance” and analogy. It is not blasphemy if one of the definitions can be “poor,” certainly aligned with the conceptual and the substance of the conceptual, which means cinema of a certain quality, after all recognized and accredited even if you have to find it in reviews. Having to make the revolution, first of all it was necessary to intervene on escapism and entertainment. Replaced by pure thought. And those films proposed themselves in the “poverty” , noble perhaps, of black and white. They often did not present models for identification or dreaming. Thought and intelligence had to compensate for what is the first aim of cinema, escapism and dreaming, precisely.

 It was a matter of considering that poverty of substance and that conceptual quality. Some works of arte povera had been mentioned. On the other hand, here are some titles that nevertheless enter the noble anthology of cinema: The 400 Blows (Truffaut), To the Last Breath (Godard), La Beau Serge (Chabrol).      
Arte povera, poor cinema, with related quality and aristocracy.

Extending anarchy. It can be beautiful and fascinating to unearth in history something homologous to what has been told. An ancient and sexy analogy. Memory, in fact, recalls two artists who, without knowing each other, by that strange, magical calling of time and in that same period, perhaps on those same days, created two enchantments. 

1606. Caravaggio finishes depicting The Death of the Virgin. It is an anomalous painting, outside the aesthetic rules of that time. So much so that when the commissioner, such a jurist Laerzio Cherubini, saw it, refused to pay for it. He felt, and almost everyone with him, that the painting was too poor. The body of the Virgin lies in an opaque and humble setting. The grieving Magdalene and apostles emerge from a very dark shadow. The contrast, a powerful element of the painter, lies in the red robe of the dead woman in a curtain, an element of poor aesthetics. There was a reason for that choice. It stemmed from the personality of Cardinal Federico Borromeo, who preached the poverty of the clergy and lived in a very modest environment, quite similar to that imagined by Caravaggio. 
Thus, The Death of the Virgin, a model of poor figurative art.

1606. Miguel de Cervantes completes his Don Quixote. The work is considered to be one of the greatest in universal literature by a prevailing and accredited current of thought. Cervantes was living in the midst of a transformation of society and culture: a transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque, where literature was still anchored in stories of noble family affairs, thwarted love affairs, and cloak-and-dagger adventures. It is not inappropriate to say that it is a story of poverty, a mantra that the knight nevertheless does not grasp, convinced that he is a hero who will change the world.

The fight with the windmills’s symbol represents the effective and well-known synthesis of his achievements. If Don Quixote did not do it, it was Cervantes who changed the world. His invention contains the dream, the fantasy, the unknown, the visionary, the instinct to bring the recondite and the unconscious to the surface. It is stuff that would be perfected three hundred years later by people like Freud.  Quixote, with his worn/out horse, his shabby squire, his useless lance, all “poor” stuff, gave signs that they are still here, even now.

March 20, 2024