Kounellis, Migration, and Graffiti: Notes on Arte Povera in Miami
By Tenley Bick
This season’s exhibition at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse is dedicated to works of Arte Povera, the primarily Italian avant-garde of the late 1960s and early 1970s coined by Italian curator and critic Germano Celant (1940–2020) in 1967, most famously in his now canonical essay for Flash Art: “Arte Povera: Appunti per una guerriglia” (Arte Povera: Notes for a Guerrilla War). While the term translates to “poor” or “impoverished art,” Arte Povera was less a literal engagement of inexpensive, discarded, or readily available “poor materials,” though these were often mainstay strategies, than an engagement with stripped-down, un-transformed material (organic and industrial), gesture, process, and language, “liberated” from the confines of discourse and convention. Countering the commercial practices (for Celant) of Pop and Minimalism and refusing the trappings of signature style, these artists were revolutionizing social and cultural systems from the inside.
Neither the historical context of postwar Italian art (per the show’s title—though much of this work falls well beyond that frame) nor Celant’s urgent notes for an artistic “guerrilla war” are captured in this exhibition. But the show offers a rare occasion to view Arte Povera in Miami, and in its broader intersecting geographies of the U.S.-American South and Caribbean. This point is not lost on Margulies the collector or institution, who have long (and admirably) strived to make a world-class private collection available to the public and, as noted in the signage, local students. Curated by longtime curator Katherine Hinds with research assistance by associate curator Jeanie Ambrosio, the exhibition includes works by eight of the eleven artists in Celant’s eventual set. As a whole, the exhibition often favors hefty works of Arte Povera composed of industrial and natural materials (as in the five wall-oriented metal shelves and sculptural tableaux by Jannis Kounellis (b. 1938, Piraeus, Greece–d. 2017, Rome). The only non-Italian artist associated with Arte Povera, Kounellis’ works here feature his often-used materials: metal panels and beams, discarded scraps of wood, musical instruments, burlap sacks, iron ore, and loose plaster.