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THE HIRSHHORN LOOKS AT THE ITALIAN AVANT-GARDE IN “ZERO TO INFINITY: ARTE POVERA 1962-1972″ — OCT. 24, 2002 – JAN. 20, 2003

Friday, September 27, 2002

Press preview:
Wednesday, Oct. 23, 9:30 a.m. until noon. Curatorial remarks at 10:30 a.m. Refreshments. R.S.V.P: (202) 357-1618, ext. 3.

“Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972,” an exhibition of more than 140 works by 14 artists on the cutting edge of Italian art of the 1960s and early 1970s, will open on Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue at Seventh Street S.W. The exhibition continues through Jan. 20, 2003.

Already shown to critical acclaim in London, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, the exhibition is the first to examine the formative years of a loose-knit group of innovative, experimental artists working in Genoa, Milan, Rome and Turin. Their multifaceted work, advanced as a movement by progressive writers, curators and gallery owners, became known as Arte Povera (literally “poor art”). The Hirshhorn marks its final venue and only East Coast showing.

To launch the exhibition, co-curator Richard Flood of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, will present a lecture at 12:30 p.m. on the opening day (Oct. 24). On Sunday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m., Michelangelo Pistoletto, one of the major artists associated with Arte Povera, makes a rare American appearance to talk about his work in “The Mirror,” the museum’s Mordes Lecture for 2002. Both programs are presented free in the museum’s Ring Auditorium.

The exhibition, which fills all of the inner galleries on the museum’s second floor, includes sculptures, large-scale installations, photographs and mixed-media works employing coal, metal tubing, cotton, wool, sound, neon, live plants and other materials. Political engagement, natural forces, the transmission of energy, and an interest in pre-industrial craft characterize the works on view. They range from a nonfunctioning metal cannon and gigantic sculptures resembling mythical birds’ feet, to a phosphorescent fist in wax and a room filled with music stands holding photos of actors as historical figures instead of sheet music.

Arte Povera — the term was coined by Genoese critic and curator Germano Celant in 1967 — emerged as Italy’s postwar economic boom gave way to social unrest, student protests and workers’ strikes. Its unconventional materials, eclectic compositions and deliberate rebellion against traditional artistic practice both paralleled and influenced post-minimalist, process-oriented, conceptual and land art movements in the United States, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

The exhibition begins with artworks that literally represent the exhibition’s title — a row of neon zeros by Pier Paolo Calzolari and a cube of inward facing mirrors creating infinite reflections by Pistoletto. The use of language appears throughout the show.

Mario Merz, whose work is in the Hirshhorn collection, is here represented by a number of his signature “igloo” sculptures. Providing further commentary on industrialization and urban culture is his photographic series documenting a canteen as it fills with factory workers according to the progressive numbers of the Fibonacci mathematical system.

Themes of natural and social transformation, and the tension between permanence and the ephemeral emerge in Giovanni Anselmo’s “Invisible,” a slide projection of this word which doesn’t exist unless it falls upon a passing object or person. In his untitled sculpture, lettuce is lodged between two blocks of granite; this piece will fall apart if the lettuce is not continuously replenished. Piero Gilardi substitutes the manmade for the natural in his “Tappetti natura (Nature carpets),” re-creating river stones and other organic surfaces with synthetic materials.

Other works comment directly on art history. Pino Pascali, in his “La decapitazione della scultura (The decapitation of sculpture),” turns canvas, a material ordinarily used for painting, into sculpture, and Giulio Paolini uses the back of a painting’s frame, stretcher bars and fabric as the artwork itself.

References to nationhood and social systems unfold in Alighiero Boetti’s woven world maps made in collaboration with craftspeople from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Luciano Fabro’s representations of the Italian peninsula produced in a variety of materials.

Interactivity and transformation inform Gilberto Zorio’s “Colonna (Column)” of cobalt chloride, which changes color in response to the movement of people, and Marisa Merz’s suspended “Untitled (Living sculpture)” which changes with the reflections of people walking past.

Elsewhere, nature hovers between the metaphorical and the literal. Jannis Kounellis’ pieces present cactus plants in geometric bins and burlap sacks filled with staple goods like beans, coffee and coal. Giuseppe Penone’s interventions in the natural environment are represented by a series of photographs and sculptures of sapling trees carved from milled lumber, according to the knot patterns in the wood. Emilio Prini will create a new project for the Hirshhorn, as he has for each venue of “Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972.”

The Hirshhorn is open daily from 10 a.m to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Take Metro to L’Enfant Plaza, Maryland Avenue exit.

Curators and Itinerary
“Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972” was jointly organized by Richard Flood, chief curator of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Frances Morris, senior curator at the Tate Modern, London. The Hirshhorn’s curator of works on paper, Phyllis Rosenzweig, is the coordinating curator for the Washington venue. Previous exhibition dates are: the Tate Modern, London (May 31 – Aug. 19, 2001), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (Oct. 13, 2001 – Jan. 13, 2002), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (April 28 – Sept. 22, 2002).

Catalog
The exhibition is accompanied by a 368-page illustrated catalog, with essays by the organizing curators and five additional expert contributors. Artists’ writings and interviews, selected exhibition histories and bibliographies are also included. Distributed by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, New York, the catalog is available at the Hirshhorn Store for $55.

Organization and Sponsorship
“Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972” was organized by Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Tate Modern, London.

The United States presentation of “Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972” is made possible by the Italian Trade Commission.

Additional support for the exhibition has been provided by Honeywell International, the Mrs. Estée Lauder Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Craig Baker, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, and Room & Board. The Washington, D.C. presentation has been made possible in part by the Holenia Trust in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. In-kind support has been provided by Saucy Salamander Catering Company and Seattle’s Best Coffee.

Selected Free Programs and Events

LECTURES: Richard Flood, “Zero to Infinity,” Thursday, Oct. 24, at 12:30 p.m.; Michelangelo Pistoletto, “The Mirror,” 10th annual Mordes Lecture, Sunday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m., Ring Auditorium, free. Exhibition tours, meeting at the Information Desk, are available Tuesdays through Saturdays, Oct. 29 to Jan. 19, at 1 p.m. See http://hirshhorn.si.edu for more information and updates on all programs.

Art Explorers Workshop for Adults: Lettuce Make a Sculpture
Friday, Oct. 25, 1-3 p.m.
Work with artist Liani Foster and Education Specialist Diane Kidd to create a sculpture with vegetables and found objects brought from home. (Preregistration required; call (202) 357-3235, ext. 116)

Workshop for Teachers: Arte Povera
Saturday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Explore the work and eclectic materials in the exhibition through a lecture and gallery activities. A teacher’s packet with slides will be distributed to participants. (Preregistration required; call (202) 357-3235, ext. 116, or e-mail education@hmsg.si.edu)

Family Festival: Celebrate Italy
Saturday, Nov. 2, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Enjoy a children’s opera, storytelling, arts and crafts, and Italian food. Co-sponsored by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura. For more information, call (202) 357-3235, ext. 116, or e-mail education@hmsg.si.edu.

Documentary and Experimental Films
Thursdays, Nov. 7 and 14, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Continuous screenings of a brief documentary on artist Mario Merz and a series of experimental shorts made in Rome during the late 1960s echoing Arte Povera. Orientation Room, lower level.

Art After Hours: Italian Evening
Thursday, Nov. 7, 6-8 p.m.
Join other adults for a drop-in, art-filled evening with live music, wine (cash bar) and light refreshments. Also attend a gallery talk on the exhibition, followed at 8 p.m. by an Antonioni film (see below) in the Ring Auditorium. Co-sponsored by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura.

Film: “The Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso),” 1964
Thursday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.
The industrial landscape contrasts with Guiliana’s (Monica Vitti) quicksilver emotions in Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic film about alienation in modern industrial Italy. In Italian with English subtitles. Ring Auditorium.

Film: “The Eclipse ( L’eclisse ),” 1962
Friday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m.
The title of this Antonioni film refers to the eclipse of emotions in relationships between men and women reflecting the dehumanizing effect of industrial society. In Italian with English subtitles. Ring Auditorium.

First Fridays Gallery Talk: Conceptual Art and Arte Povera
Friday, Dec. 6, 12:30 p.m.
With Public Affairs Specialist Kristen Hileman. Meet at the Information Desk.

Young at Art: Favola
Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m.-noon
Join actress Carol Nissenson from the NOW THIS! improv theater company to create an Italian fairy tale and mask to wear for a dramatic presentation to family members. For children ages 6 to 9 accompanied by adults. Young at Art is generously supported by a grant from Vivian and Elliott I. Pollock. (Preregistration required; call (202) 357-3235, ext. 116, or e-mail education@hmsg.si.edu)

New Voices: Arte Povera
Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003, 3 p.m.
Discussion with Justin Marquis, a recent graduate in art history from Georgetown University, and Whitney Odell, a senior in art history at the University of Virginia. Meet at the exhibition entrance, second floor.

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