Rhapsody of poverty in the Italian landscape at the Met Museum
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2020 - 12:00am

“Lasciate mi cantare con la gitara ai mano. Lasciate mi cantare. Sono Italiano, un Italiano vero . . . .” (L’Italiano sang by Toto Cotugno) Leave me alone to sing. Holding a guitar in my hand. Leave me alone to sing. I am an Italian, a true Italian. Many popular Italian songs are lyrical like “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu” (Volare) by Domenico Modugno, “Non Ho L’eta” by Gigliola Cinquetti, “Ciao Ciao Bambino” (Piove) by Domenico Modugno and “Bambola” by Patty Bravo. Italians are among the most expressive people of Europe exhibiting their feelings in a variety of things. The Italian temperament is like that of Filipinos.

First in Southeast Asia

Just launched for the first time in Southeast Asia is Arte Povera (the art in poverty) at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila along Roxas Boulevard. Italian Ambassador Giorgio Guglielmino, the exhibit art curator Danilo Eccher, MET curator Tina Colayco and MET board chairman, Joselito Butch Campos opened the intriguing art show at the spacious Tall Galleries section running from Feb. 10 to April 30, 2020. Security Bank co-sponsored the revolutionary Italian Art.

Art critic Danilo Eccher has lent his expertise as director of renowned European art institutions including Contemporanea di Trento (1989 to 1995), Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna (1996-2000), the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (2001-2008) and the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin (2009-2014). Eccher eventually turned to an independent curator practice in 2015, working on solo exhibition of artists such as Jannis Kounellis, Anselm Kiefer, Sean Scully, and Christian Boltansky.

The rich Renaissance art treasures of the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the art patrons in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and England were the royal families and the Vatican papacy. The Italian masterpieces stood out like the “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, “Madonna and Child” by Raphael, the “Annunciation” by Fra Angelico, the “Holy Family” by Bronzino, Paradiso by Tintoretto, “Venus with a Mirror” by Tiziano Vecelli (Titian), the “Venetian General” by Veronese and “Primavera” by Botticelli. The most outstanding collections are in the Vatican museum and famous churches all over Italy, the Pitti Palace in Florence and the galleries of Venice.

Arte Povera, a turning point in art history

Arte Povera: Italian Landscape captures one of the turning points in the history of Italian contemporary art in the ‘60s through the ‘70s. The Arte Povera movement broke boundaries in traditional art making through new “engagement with audiences and an experimental approach in making life and everyday objects integral to art.” The exhibit features the masterpieces of ten Italian artists who gave birth to the Arte Povera movement. Participating in this exhibition are contemporary Italian master artists Jannis Kounellis, Marisa Merz, Marion Merz, Giovanni Anselmo, Luciano Fabro, Giuseppe Penone, Alighiero Boetti, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gilberto Zorio, Pier Paolo Calzolari, and two younger artists from the new generation Francesco Arena, and Gianni Caravaggio.

When museum visitors become philosophers of life

There’s no painting whatsoever in Arte Povera but tri-dimensional exhibition of sculptured objects. Each is thought provoking so one takes a quiet stroll from art object to the next requiring a thoughtful interpretation of “poverty” in each display. Don’t go alone. It’s a lonely walk that is better enjoyed with one or two companions who can give various interesting ideas on the wisdom of life.

Gilberto Zorio’s gray “parol,” Unlike the typical colorful Philippine Christmas lantern associated with festivities, its dull grayness evokes the dimming of light. It could also mean the end of a story or a pause, just as we store away our Christmas lanterns to hang again the next Christmas season. Mario Merz Asphalt igloo is also gray, dark gray joined together by metal rods. Will Eskimos prefer this architecture compared to their ice slab igloo? Could it be a prison for hardened criminals? Maria Merz, the artist’s wife, chose instead to fashion twinkling copper gold lace stars splattered along the long white wall making one’s heart flip a little. On the adjacent wall is Pier Paolo Calzolari’s opus, a technical wonder. Neat beige little cushions decorated with mini neon lights. Both works usually demonstrated to the public in giant billboards have been miniaturized.

Jannis Kounellis circle of black chairs each loaded with black bags of coal makes a powerful statement of poverty. Black garbage bags, piles of burning coals to warm a poor family in winter. The black chairs conjure the image of sweaty laborers at rest, huddled in a circle warming one another with their heated conversation. The largest art piece is Alighiero Boetti’s colorful patchwork tapestry depicting different sites of one’s life journey. About fifteen meters long it undulates like the sand dunes of Arabia. It enhances the awareness of the ascent and descent of a long journey filled with exciting events symbolized by the blend of colors and designs.

Ruins, desert sand and rags

One can feel cut off from the activity of the world with the lonely terracotta wall of Guiseppe Penone. It seems to depict the poor remnants of historical ruins which could be in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. Giovanni Anselmo’s six-meter spread of dry soil symbolizing “terra” or land could suggest the still undiscovered land in the world. One corner was accidentally stepped on by a museum guest leaving his footprint behind. The green healthy ornamental plants of Luciano Fabro lend the only touch of life to the gallery, symbolizing the plant kingdom, one of mankind’s sources of life while the other two are the animal kingdom and the mineral kingdom. Michelangelo Pistoletto introduces a different orchestra, the ”orchestra of rags” made up of two ensemble of colorful ragged women’s (or men’s) clothes, each topped by a square glass. One can imagine choral singing or residents serenading with guitars in the laborers district.

Shoestring budget, heart strings and sunshine

Francesco Arena and Gianni Caravaggio are the two younger artists of Arte Povera. Arena created a one and a half foot giant spool of a long cotton string knotted together foot by foot. It encircled half of the ceiling of the gallery. It may symbolize how the poor survives on a shoestring budget, affording only the minimum essentials of life but lifted up with heartstrings of family love. Caravaggio chose a cloud with sunlight beaming through it. Thus life weighed down by problems can be liberating as expressed by the popular love song, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

(For feedback, email to precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

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