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Arte Povera/Opera Aperta - Cursus Rome (KNIR)
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Arte Povera/Opera Aperta – Umberto Eco and the (Inter)Nationality of Italian Art in the 1960s and 70s


28 Oktober t/m 8 November 2019
Sjoukje van der Meulen en Arno Witte

Course schedule


Arte Povera/Opera Aperta – Umberto Eco and the (Inter)Nationality of Italian Art in the 1960s and 70s


KNIR course for MA and PhD students


28 October – 8 November 2019


Teaching staff:

Dr. Sjoukje van der Meulen, UU

Dr. Arnold Witte, KNIR


Aanmelden: https://www.knir.it/nl/tile/seminar-arte-povera-opera-aperta/




Umberto Eco's Opera Aperta was published in 1962 and immediately had a broad reception – both negative and positive – in the Italian and in the continental European art world. Translations appeared in French, German and Spanish, but there was a delay in its English reception (truncated edition in 1989), thus leading to a prolongation of Greenberg's theory on the advancement of contemporary art (the Anglo-Saxon master narrative of High Modernism) in the Anglophone world – until Roland Barthes published his Death of the Author essay in 1968 (first in English: Brian O’Doherty’s Aspen 5&6).


The concept of 'openness' is a crucial element in contemporary art in its communication with an empowered beholder. Around 1968, one understood this in political terms, too.

It established a specifically European notion of art discourse – in which the viewer (or reader, or listening audience) played an active role. The impact on artists and intellectuals was widespread and not limited to a specific movement. Also Arte Povera has recently been regarded in conjunction with Eco’s proposal, although Celant never acknowledged the former’s position. In effect, the discourse on Arte Povera and its definition as a movement presents an interesting historiographical issue in which criticism and art history are entangled but also in contradiction with one another.


This course will address the historical and contemporary debates around Arte Povera in order to re-evaluate this imaginative Postwar movement from a contemporary perspective: are contemporary artists still inspired by its ideas, artistic strategies, political positions and pioneering use of “poor” materials? Using Celant’s texts as a springboard, the special issue of October dedicated to rethinking Arte Povera in the Spring 2008 will pass the revue, as well as other publications, and, of course, the controversial retrospective exhibition at the Foundation Prada, “When Attitudes become form” (Bern 1969/Venice 2013).


Case studies of artists that are dealt with in this course are Mario Merz, Pierro Manzoni, Giuseppe Penone and Michelangelo Pistoletto, and some foreign artists’ related work, such as Joseph Beuys' "Difesa della Natura", a project undertaken with Baronessa de Domizio Durini; this also establishes a link with the dynamics of collectors and gallerists across Italy, such as Lucio Amelio, and critic/curator Achille Bonito Oliva. Curatorial matters will provide a historical frame through consideration of the work of Ticino curator Harald Szeemann, who exhibited the relevant artists consistently, but most often outside of Italy. When he worked in the Italian-speaking world, he pointed to anarchism and alternative lifestyles in Monte Veritá – and Eco’s openness in Aperto, his Venice Biennale exhibitions. Through these perspectives, Italy's arguable marginality in contemporary art terms will be explored.



Preliminary programme



Friday 4 October, at 15:00 hrs.


Introductory meeting with Sjoukje van der Meulen, Arnold Witte and the partipants at the library of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Lecture on Arte Povera, and guided tour through the Stedelijk Museum collection by Sjoukje van der Meulen.



Friday 25 October, at 17:00 hrs


Handing in of preparatory essay on the basis of prescribed literature. Please send to a.witte@knir.it and s.vandermeulen@uu.nl



Monday 28 October


Arrival of participants


19:00 Course introduction, meeting and dinner



Tuesday 29 October


10:00-12:00 Lecture Arnold Witte: The Italian art scene in the late 1950s and early 1960's: developments and movements


12:00-12:30 Library introduction (Janet Mente)


14:00-17:30 Visit to MAXXI library  & permanent collection




Wednesday 30 October


10:00-12:00 Lecture Sjoukje van der Meulen: “Critizing Celant’s framework:

The journal October’s approach to Arte Povera.”


Preparations of presentations


17:00-19:00 KNIR Debate



Thursday 31 October


Morning: preparation of presentations


14:00-15:00 Discussion of presentation topics


15:30-13:00 Lecture Arnold Witte: Umberto Eco and the Italian artistic and intellectual context of Italy in the 1960s




Friday 1 November


10:00-11:00 Lecture Arnold Witte: Recent developments in the contemporary art: new museums in Italy and the relation of Italian and foreign art


11:30-13:00 uur: Lecture Sjoukje van der Meulen: “Arte Povera between Bern and Amsterdam: Beeren’s “Op Losse Schroeven” (1969) en Szeeman’s “When Attitudes become Form” (1969)”


15:00 Discussion of final essay



Saturday 2 November


10:00-14:00   Visit to MAAM (Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz)


16:00   Reading Workshop Celant & Eco: multiple readings of openness



Sunday 3 November


Morning:  preparation of presentations


18:00: visit to Galleria l’Attico – exhibition “L’Attico dentro l’Attico”



Monday 4 November


Morning: presentation of presentations


15:30: visit to MACRO Asilo and discussion with Fabio Benincasa & Giorgio de Finis (tbc)



Tuesday 5 November


10:00-12:00 Visit to the house of Toti Scialoja (Via di Santa Maria in Monticelli 67), followed by visit to Galleria Edieuropa


14:00-16:00  2 student presentations on site (GNAM)


17:00-19:00   KNIR Debate



Wednesday 6 November


Morning:  3 student presentations on site (GNAM)


16:00-18:00 Visit to Galleria Edieuropa (Piazza Cenci, 56), exhibition on Pino Pascali and Galleria Unosunove (Via degli Specchi, 20), exhibition on Sergio Lombardo



Thursday 7 November


Morning:  3 student presentations on site (GNAM)


14:00 Visit to Pastificio Cerere (show “Inventory. The Fountains of Za’Atari”).


16:00 Conclusions



Friday 8 November


Departure of the students



Monday 2 December


10:00 Handing in of final essays




Required reading:


Umberto Eco, The Open Work. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1989 or another edition. See http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674639768


Articles from October, Vol. 124, Special issue on Postwar Italian Art (Spring, 2008). These can be downloaded from JStor: http://www.jstor.org/stable/i40016116


Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood” (1967).


Jacopo Galimberti, ‘A Third-worldist Art? Germano Celant’s Invention of Arte Povera’ in Art History 36/2 (2013) 418-441




Preparatory essay: write an essay of 2500 words maximum on the relation between one particular text by Celant (you will be assigned one when you have been accepted to the course) and Italian and American art criticism in the 1960s, on the basis of the literature prescribed for the course and additional material on the reception of Clement Greenberg in the European and Italian contexts, which you are expected to search for yourselves. How does Celant, in the particular text you are discussing, related to the general issues in contemporary criticism? Please follow the normal requirements for academic essays with respect to notes and bibliography. NB Your essay will also be the basis for your contribution to the workshop on November 1.


Requirements for the on-site presentation: Present - by means of one work, in a Roman collection - a geographical perspective or curatorial history or theory and the Italian literary context. Do this in front of a work by that artist and in a meaningful location/site.


Final essay: an essay of maximum 6000 words on a subject of your choice – preferably using your on-site presentation and the preparations for it, and other issues discussed during the course. The normal requirements for an academic essay apply.



Study load (in Dutch)


A. Voorbereiding (literatuurstudie en voorbereidend essay): 1 EC

In deze fase neemt de student deel aan een introductiebijeenkomst en bereidt zich vervolgens voor op het intensieve seminar te Rome door een hoeveelheid literatuur te bestuderen. Het betreft hier 1 boek en een aantal hoofdstukken/artikelen met een totale omvang van 600 pagina's.

De door de student verworven kennis wordt getoetst met behulp van een Voorbereidend essay van maximaal 2500 woorden. De studielast voor deze opdracht bedraagt 30 uur, te weten 1 EC. Het cijfer voor deze opdracht bestaat uit het gemiddelde van de beide redactiefasen. Dit cijfer vormt 30 % van het eindcijfer voor de cursus.


B. Intensief seminar te Rome: 3 EC


De student volgt van 28 oktober tot en met 8 november 2019 een intensief seminar aan het KNIR te Rome. Dit seminar omvat diverse gezamenlijke werkbezoeken en instructiebijeenkomsten onder leiding van de docenten en de Master Andrea Vreede. Daarnaast werken studenten in subgroepen en afzonderlijk aan hun onderzoek en de voorbereiding van de verslaglegging hiervan. Daartoe worden studenten ingedeeld in subgroepen waarbij de student, afhankelijk van zijn of haar opleidingsniveau (BA, MA of RMA) een rol krijgt toebedeeld. De rollen die aan studenten MA en RMA worden toebedeeld kennen een grotere mate van verantwoordelijkheid voor het begeleiden en intern en extern evalueren van het groepsproces.

De studielast voor deze opdracht bedraagt 84 uur (10 dagen van 8 tot 9 uur dagelijks), te weten 3 EC. Het cijfer voor dit cursusonderdeel wordt bepaald op basis van

het door hen aangeleverde deel van het eindproduct, alsmede de door hen verzorgde aanvullende opdrachten mbt coaching en evaluatie van het groepsproces

Het cijfer voor dit onderdeel vormt 30 % van het eindcijfer voor de cursus.


C. Eindopdracht: 2 EC


Na afloop van het intensief seminar te Rome schrijven studenten een afrondend essay in aansluiting op een van de door hen binnen het intensief seminar voorbereide opdrachten. De omvang van dit essay bedraagt maximaal 6000 woorden. Het essay dient uiterlijk 2 december 2019 te worden ingeleverd. De studielast van dit cursusonderdeel bedraagt 56 uur, te weten 2 EC. Bij de beoordeling van het afrondend essay wordt er beoordeeld in hoeverre zij in hun essay blijk geven van analytisch en beschouwend vermogen. Omdat dit essay een cumulatief product is van voorbereiding, deelneming aan de cursus zelf plus nader (literatuur)onderzoek, vormt het cijfer voor dit onderdeel 40% van het eindcijfer voor deze cursus.


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