The Philadelphia Museum of Art celebrates the emergence of Arte Povera in italy and its influence on the international scene by restaging, fifty years later, a founding exhibition of the movement, which took place in Amalfi, Italy, in 1968, and which also included Alighiero Boetti's <i>Catasta</i>.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Curator and art critic
<span class="alinea"></span>Born in 1940 in Turin, at a time when Italy’s fascist government was fighting alongside Nazi Germany, Alighiero Boetti is well aware of the dangers inherent in defending racist ideologies and the fantasy of a “superior race.” Together with Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mario Merz, and Jannis Kounellis, Boetti is one of the leading artists of Arte Povera, who employed minimal means and everyday ordinary materials in their installations—though Boetti would soon complain that these had become too “baroque.”
<span class="alinea"></span><i>Catasta</i> is a foundational work in Boetti’s career, made in 1967—the same year as Arte Povera’s first exhibitions, first in Genoa, then in Turin. These exhibitions were organized by critic Germano Celant, who coined the label “Arte Povera” and championed its artists in his writing, commending the way they challenged the perception of the “grand” work of art as a revered object. This new take on minimalism relied on the use of everyday and found materials, both natural (wood, stones, earth, or hay) and industrial (metal, neon, even a refrigerator).
<span class="alinea"></span><i>Catasta</i> is a parallelepiped made of twelve square tubes of Eternit (fiber cement), stacked to form not the messy “pile” of its title but a neatly and methodically arranged shape. The work resembles less a game of pick-up sticks or Jenga than a grid in the round. It evokes both Piranesi’s orthogonal scribbles (both artists used graph paper for their sketches) and Anthony Caro’s prefabricated metal structures.
<span class="alinea"></span>These interlocking forms create a play of shadows, of reflections, alternating impressions of solids and voids, which Boetti would soon renounce, along with lines and grids, to work instead with maps and alphabets, colors and fabrics. These voluminous deployments were followed by two-dimensional works on paper, covered in multicolored signs. <i>Catasta</i> is a political and esthetic meditation on beauty, on optical seduction. It could also evoke the grill on which martyrs and criminals were once put to death. Indeed, Boetti, an expert linguist, is well aware that his title, the Latin word “catasta,” refers to this torture implement as well as to the stage on which slaves for sale were displayed—a stage that would likely rotate, like a sculptor’s model stand. We might say that Boetti’s “poor” archaic sculpture presents an invisible absentee—beauty, whether martyr or servant.