Arte Povera did not exist. This was the central thesis for an exhibit developed by Triple Candie which was to be included in the Artissima Art Fair in Turin last November. Triple Candie gained approval and developed its concept for months. The entry which was accepted for publication in the art fair’s catalog read:
“There is no arte povera. / It never existed; / As we’ve determined from the evidence, / Which is unreliable, contradictory…We don’t believe Celant. / His story has changed too many times.” Celant is the art critic who coined the term arte povera and had a hand in developing the movement. The exhibit was to include hundreds of photo reproductions and dozens of sculptural “surrogates” of work included in the art movement – but no actual artwork.
Before Triple Candie was able to execute its plans, however, the exhibit was pulled from the show. Francesco Manacorda, Artissima’s director, who had originally been very supportive of the concept, noted that it could be “potentially very offensive to artists and gallerists who participate in the fair” and “negatively impact government funding of the arts in Italy, and potentially threaten the viability of Artissima.”
The events that led up to the cancelation of the exhibit are described in detail on Triple Candie’s website: http://triplecandie.org/Archive%202011%20arte%20povera.html
The events that occurred and the emails exchanged between Triple Candie and Manacorda were made into a script and read aloud at California College of the Arts in San Francisco last Thursday, 12/8/2011, with a heartfelt slide show accompaniment to provide context for the messages.
Curators are held to very different standards than artists. We expect artists to push boundaries and take risks and we expect curators to assume the role of celebrating the artist. Most art exhibits do not challenge the viewer. We pat ourselves on the back for visiting art museums and galleries and are spoon-fed artwork in chronological order. Or we pass from one thematic room to the next, moving from landscapes to portraits to abstracts. It’s boring and thoughtless. But when a team such as Triple Candie takes a risk and dares to challenge art, artists, and viewers we can’t handle it. We push back. We destroy, shut down, censor, cancel, threaten, feel threatened, and worry about sponsors, funders, friends…what would they think? We mistakenly assume that critique is negative. I see Triple Candie’s proposed exhibit as a way to revisit the facts, to raise a discussion. They called Celant’s essays contradictory, but they also called him a hero. Being critical and being respectful are not mutually exclusive, and I think Triple Candie sought both in their exhibit. We should be celebrating daring curators. Triple Candie is brave, provocative, and rigorous and I hope we see more from them and more from thinkers like them.