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Arte Povera

FORTY YEARS AGO this month, the critic and curator Germano Celant thrust arte povera upon the international scene. Amid tumultuous demonstrations at Italian universities that, like many other movements circa 1968, were aimed at institutional structures that preserved the stratifications of class, the twenty-seven-year-old Celant asserted that Italian artists were confronting their own social and cultural patrimony. Using the utopian rhetoric typical of twentieth-century avant-gardes, he wrote of a desire to escape the bounds of a social system that rewards conformity and limits experience, and argued, in stridently Marxist terms, that this system forces artists into producing bourgeois objects for an art market that requires the stability of the assembly line. Arte povera, Celant declared, was different—it was a truly revolutionary art that rejected the market’s pressure to conform by

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