A memory of Germano Celant

June 1, 2020

Stefano Boeri, President of Triennale Milano, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, and the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto remember Germano Celant (1940-2020), a key figure in the world of art and culture in Italy and across the world.

Video of the live with Stefano Boeri, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michelangelo Pistoletto

The art critic Giancarlo Politi, founder of Flash Art, remembered Germano Celant with these words: “I was present at the very first meetings in Turin in the run-up to what was to become Arte Povera. It was in early 1967 and Marcello Levi, the great Turin-born collector, had rented a large space, the Deposito Arte Presente, or DAP, where he had collected works by Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Mario Merz, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gilberto Zorio, Ugo Nespolo, Gianni Piacentino, and Piero Gilardi. [...] One day, when all the artists were gathered together, along with Gian Enzo Sperone, Tucci Russo and myself, Germano Celant arrived from Genoa. Dressed all in black, he took the floor at the centre of the conclave and addressed the artists, saying: ‘We need to establish a military-style relationship between us. None of you may put on an exhibition without the consent of everyone else, none of you will be able to show your works in a museum or gallery unless you are authorised by everyone. Nobody can sell a work unless we all agree.’ The baton of command remains with me (he did not say this, but he made it quite clear). [...] Germano’s word always had great impact, and I am still surprised by how the great Genoese critic managed to hold sway over such a group of crazy hotheads.”

“I remember so many moments, so many discussions. At that moment we were talking of guerrilla warfare, of existing tensions. Germano’s stance could be very firm at times, in certain situations, and he would use the term ‘guerrilla’. He adopted a militant position. [...] When Arte Povera came into being, attempts were being made to respond to the consumer system – to the American system that had gained the upper hand. The need was felt to make art radical, for it to reach to the core: that is what Arte Povera was really all about. ‘Poor’ art in the sense of essential, as a rejection of the superfluous. We were all caught up by the shocking, overwhelming politics of that time.”
Michelangelo Pistoletto

Arte Povera 1967-2011, curated by Germano Celant, 2011, Triennale Milano, photo by Dario Curatolo

“Celant was a contrast of two approaches: on the one hand, that of the kleptomaniac, camouflaged within the power system of art, and on the other, the free will of man. Arte Povera as guerrilla warfare, as action, as an almost situationist work, as social gestures, as the artist who rejects any label and identifies only with himself.”
Stefano Boeri

“The artist felt he was a living actor, a responsible actor, in society. This is the responsibility that Germano talks of, and that we all shoulder in society. Art as an active mechanism facing up to a devastating power system that had taken over the entre artistic and social dimension.”
Michelangelo Pistoletto

Arte Povera 1967-2011, curated by Germano Celant, 2011, Triennale Milano, photo by Dario Curatolo
Arte Povera 1967-2011, curated by Germano Celant, 2011, Triennale Milano, photo by Dario Curatolo
Arts & Foods, curated by Germano Celant, 2015, Triennale Milano, photo by Attilio Maranzano
Arts & Foods, curated by Germano Celant, 2015, Triennale Milano, photo by Attilio Maranzano
Disquieting images, curated by Germano Celant and Melissa Harris, 2010, Triennale Milano, photo by Fabrizio Marchesi
Disquieting images, curated by Germano Celant and Melissa Harris, 2010, Triennale Milano, photo by Fabrizio Marchesi
Arte Povera 1967-2011, curated by Germano Celant, 2011, Triennale Milano, photo by Dario Curatolo
Arte Povera 1967-2011, curated by Germano Celant, 2011, Triennale Milano, photo by Dario Curatolo

“There are countless aspects to Germano Celant’s immense work. One is that he invented a way of working as an independent curator, while also being very close to the institutions. From the 1980s onwards, Celant was closely associated with the Guggenheim as its Senior Curator of Contemporary Art. During his long, outstanding career, from the 1990s to the present day, he has been linked to the Prada Foundation. And yet he has always remained free. Another aspect is that of his books. He wrote over 200. Way back in 1969 he published the first book on Arte Povera which, as a student, I myself studied, and countless others came after. His books played a fundamental role and were of huge inspiration for me and for so many others. One aspect that really struck me was that of recollection, which came very early in Celant’s work – already in 1976 – when he put on one of the most important exhibitions in the history of the twentieth century at the Venice Biennale. He brought his space into the Biennale and then invited the various others – and not just the contemporary ones but also the historical ones – to interact with each other. For him it was essential to be surrounded by art, and not to show just fragments of it. He used to say that museums often contain fragments of the history of art, but they do not convey the total experience as the artist conceived it. He also spoke about the importance of the studio, of recreating studio situations.”

“It is very interesting to be able to go beyond art, and to have it interact with art disciplines such as architecture, urban planning and design.”
Hans Ulrich Obrist

Cucine & Ultracorpi, curated by Germano Celant, 2015, Triennale Milano, photo by Attilio Maranzano

“Another indisputable role played by Germano, which to some extent explains the void that his passing has left us in, is that of his constant focus on art and culture in Italy and abroad. Two very famous events were the exhibition he put on in 1981 at the Centre Pompidou on the identité italienne and the 1994 exhibition at the Guggenheim, for which Umberto Eco, Giorgio Galli and Vittorio Gregotti wrote essays in the catalogue. We see a constant ability to pick out the most advanced aspects of Italian culture and hold them up to those of international culture.”
Stefano Boeri

Disquieting images, curated by Germano Celant and Melissa Harris, 2010, Triennale Milano, photo by Fabrizio Marchesi

In “Appunti per una guerriglia”, an article published in Flash Art in 1967, Germano Celant writes about the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto: “Since 1964, Pistoletto (like Warhol, Mari, and Grotowski) has posed the question of the freedom of language no longer bound to the system or to visual consistency, but rather to an ‘internal’ consistency, and in 1966 he created extremely “poor” works – a crib, a cardboard well with fractured canvases in the middle, a board for clothes, a structure for talking while standing, and another for talking while seated, a table made of frames and paintings, a giant photo of Jasper Johns, and a lamp with a mercury bulb. A work designed to record the ‘unrepeatability of every moment’ (Pistoletto), which calls for the rejection of every system and every codified expectation. Freedom of action, unconstrained and unpredictable (in 1967, a sarcophagus, a house painted with extreme chromatic freedom, a ball of pressed newspapers, a body covered in mica), and a frustration of expectations, which allows Pistoletto to remain always on the borderline between art and life.”

“The original story that emerged from my relationship with Celant was that of the birth of Arte Povera […] He gave a name to a movement made up of such different people – it was not that easy. He understood many things, that the differences were essentially due the ability of the artists to be phenomenological. They are all artists who use a phenomenology: not just their imagination, not just their own personal or emotional expression. It really is the radical nature of the ideas that he found in diversity. [...] He understood that there could be a fundamental nucleus of change in diversity.”

“Germano had a twofold quality: that of being very precise and well organised, and that of being extremely flexible and open, always looking for something new and for the most delicate and profound event. He always put this into practice. It was always important for me to talk with Germano when we met up about what was going on in the world. We did not just talk about finished objects to be put on show, but also about how all objects become part of a way of thinking and how these thoughts could move away from these objects and then come back in a different manner. An open, dynamic vision that is itself the very dimension of art. One that plays an active part in creation even when it is verifying and reporting the facts.”

“Quite apart from the life of a person I have always esteemed, for all he has done, what I find most extraordinary, as an Italian artist, is the fact that he gave a name and theory to Arte Povera: the last movement of the twentieth century.”
Michelangelo Pistoletto

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