Germano Celant Dies at 80. A chapter of Italian contemporary art has closed and is definitively handed down as part of history.

We could follow the definition adopted by the voices of the national media to mourn the death of the ‘theorist and father of Arte Povera’ Germano Celant, who died today at the age of 82, months after being diagnosed with Covid-19, but it would seem reductive to summarize in this way the pioneering role of the first independent curator of contemporary art Italy.

Germano Celant – Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918–1943– Foto Ugo Dalla Porta, Fondazione Prada

Having trained in the theatrical and literary avant-garde circles in Genoa, Celant collaborated at a very young age, invitated by the founder Eugenio Battisti, to the first interdisciplinary magazine in Italy, Marcatré, as a correspondent for the art news section.

He participated in major national cultural events – such as the conference of the Gruppo ’63 in Palermo or the Critica d’Arte in Verrucchio – getting to know some of the most important Italian artists and gallery owners – from Fontana to De Martiis to Sperone, Paolini and Pistoletto in Turin. Since 1965 he has collaborated with the publication ‘Casabella’ with Alessandro Mendini and in 1967 he published his first book, a monograph on the first Italian designer, Marcello Nizzoli. The interest in this subject in and industrial design soon led him to approach with his research, the currents of Arte Programmata and Ghestaltic Art, which, with their investigation of the relationship between art and technology, will influence him in years to come. In December 1964, Celant curated one of his first exhibitions in Florence, Proposte strutturali, plastiche e sonore, which perfectly sums up the debut and the background of the Genoese critic.

When in 1967 Celant published the manifesto-article Arte Povera, Notes for a guerrilla, he has already matured the vision of an art that, rebelling against the acceptance of the inventions and technological imitations of the system, indicates the freedom of man in the contingency of the event. This hypothesis will be clarified in the double exposition Arte Povera-Im Spazio, at the Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa that same year, in which the historical core of Arte Povera is presented for the first time. The theoretical formulation of the movement was moreover consolidated in the dialectical opposition to the demands of the Programmed Art, as Celant himself had illustrated in the intervention in the catalog of the exhibition Lo spazio dell’Immagine, which preceded the exhibition by a few months at La Bertesca, which was inaugurated at Palazzo Trinci in Foligno in the summer of that year.

Tuned on the revolutionary frequency and the ideological premises of 1968, an artistic adventure begins in dialogue with all shades of reality, from historical point of wiev and the social reference to the international environment, following what happened in the United States with Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Land Art.

The wide success of the national and international exhibitions that follow the Arte Povera movement, go together with a global-wide opening of the art system and with a critical-militant strategy as an onemanband, as Celant himself defines it. He was, in fact, the first to give an example of a model previously unknown in Italy, a model that was independent from the institutions and able to rely mainly on a network of contacts and curators for artistic promotion.

Hence the success thanks to the creation of large exhibitions such as the one at the Arsenali in Amalfi, Arte Povera plus Azioni Povere, in 1968, promoted by the collector Marcello Rumma or, the inclusion of the movement within the historic exhibition in 1969, When Attitudes Become Form, at the Bern Kunsthalle, thanks to the friendship with the Swiss curator Harald Szeeman.

But Celant’s activity of critic and curator continues beyond the end of the movement in 1971, as curator of the exhibition Ambiente/Arte created in 1976 on the occasion of the 37th Venice Biennale and aimed at further investigating the relationship between artwork and the space surrounding it, which remains a constant thread throughout his research. Worth of mentioning are his roles for the curatorship of major Italian exhibitions abroad, such as Identité Italienne. L’art en Italie depuis 1959, at the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1981, aimed at formulating a first historicization of the Arte Povera movement. Or the collaboration with the Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, with the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1989 or with Palazzo Grassi in Venice, where in 1989 he proposed a retrospective on the Italian art from the early twentieth century to the second post-war period with the exhibition Presenze 1900-1945.

The nineties, on the other hand, are the time of the works at the Biennials, from the one in Florence in 1996 Arte e Moda, to that in Venice in 1997. In the year 2000 he curates the Vedova Foundation in Venice and then he is responsible of the artistic direction at the Prada Foundation in Milan, which led him to win The Agnes Gund Curatorial Award promoted by the ICI of New York in 2013 – the year in which he organizes a remaking of the 1969 exhibition in Bern at the Prada Foundation in Venice, When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969 / Venice 2013, in a dialogue with the photographer Thomas Demand and the architect Rem Koolhaas.

Then it’s the Art & Food exhibition at the Milan Triennale in 2015, created for the World Expo and finally the great retrospective of 2019 on the artist ‘street companion’, who died in 2017, Jannis Kounellis, at the Venetian headquarters of the Fondazione Prada. 
Germano Celant’s career ends on the latest monographic exhibition inaugurated in October 2019 at the Mart in Rovereto featuring the artist Richard Artschwager, and which was later on display at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

With the death of Germano Celant, a chapter of Italian contemporary art has closed and is definitively handed down as part of history.

Giulia Pollicita