The best of Arte Povera



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top ten auction results for Arte Povera.
Almost half a century after its official birth in Italy, Arte Povera has been so successful at breathing fresh life into the creative domain that it still occupies centre stage. This is particularly true of Europe and of some of New York’s most influential galleries. Emblematic exhibitions are being held in France at venues that reflect the notoriety and significance of the genre’s leading lights (Michelangelo PISTOLETTO at the Louvre, 24 April – 2 September 2013; Giuseppe PENONE at Versailles, 11 June – 31 October 2013), while the Gagosian Gallery in Paris and Cheim & Reid in New York are respectively showcasing Mario MERZ and Jannis KOUNELLIS (until the end of June).
The recent major exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Basel (9 September 2012 – 3 February 2013) served to reactivate the market for artists from this period, to the extent that three of the ten records for Arte Povera were set between October 2012 and May 2013. Among the 10 most popular artists are five who have broken the million-dollar barrier (Piero MANZONI, Alighiero BOETTI, Michelangelo PISTOLETTO, Mario MERZ and Jannis KOUNELLIS), while the artist who has had the most dazzling career, Piero Manzoni, is streets ahead of the genre’s other leading lights.

The best of Arte Povera
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Piero MANZONI $12,500,000 Achrome (1958) 05/15/2013 (Christie’s New York)
2 Alighiero BOETTI $2,411,360 Mappa (1989) 06/30/2010 (Christie’s Londres)
3 Michelangelo PISTOLETTO $1,720,400 Autoritratto del 62 (Self-Portrait of 62) (1962-1965) 02/13/2013 (Christie’s Londres)
4 Mario MERZ $1,298,430 «Igloo Objet cache-toi» (1968-1977) 02/09/2005 (Christie’s Londres)
5 Jannis KOUNELLIS $1,072,538 Untitled (1960) 10/20/2008 (Christie’s Londres)
6 Luciano FABRO $897,344 Nazione Italica (1969) 10/12/2012 (Christie’s Londres)
7 Giulio PAOLINI $389,865 Le Tre Grazie (1978) 10/16/2006 (Christie’s Londres)
8 Giovanni ANSELMO $382,912 Torsione (1968) 10/06/2005 (Sotheby’s Paris)
9 Pier Paolo CALZOLARI $176,368 «1 et 2 giorno come gli orienti sono due» (1970) 10/16/2006 (Christie’s Londres)
10 Claudio PARMIGGIANI $88,717 Omaggio del sole e della luna alla luce 06/01/2007 (Lempertz Cologne)


An essentially European market
Although they did not all attend the original 1967 exhibition in Geneva organised by Germano Celant, 12 artists are traditionally considered to be the founders of Arte Povera: Alighiero Boetti, Giovanni Anselmo, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario and Marisa Merz, Pino Pascali, Giulio Paolini, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Gilberto Zorio. The first exhibition brought together artists from Rome, Turin and Milan. Nowadays it is certain that major works are to be found in Italy, but it is more common to find pieces in the sales rooms of London than in Milan. The record million-plus sales of works by Alighiero Boetti, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mario Merz and Jannis Kounellis have all taken place in London over recent years. But the only really top-drawer price for an Arte Povera artist (the only one to break not only the million-dollar but also the ten-million-dollar threshold) was achieved in New York, the epicentre for sales in this price bracket.
This auction price of $12.5 million is a reward for Piero Manzoni, who, despite his premature death at the age of 30, created one of the 20th century’s most inventive works: Achrome, produced in 1958. Despite the fact that this work pre-dates the official beginning of the movement, it captures the soul of Arte Povera in its artistic attitude and spirit of protest. The record-breaking Achrome was sold at Christie’s New York on 15 May 2013, smashing its high estimate of $3.5 million and obliterating the previous record achieved in 2008 for a similar work (Achrome, 1958, $9 million, 14 May 2008, Sotheby’s New York). Piero Manzoni has always been in great demand with collectors but in fact his value has only increased by 50% over the last decade. In terms of increased value, the most spectacular breakthrough is that of Alighiero Boetti (taking 2nd place in the Top Ten with a record equivalent to $2.4 million for Mappa), with a price increase of +253% over the last ten years.

Anti-market art
In the context of the 1960s, Arte Povera can be seen as a radical intellectual and artistic adventure that was mainly aimed at breaking away from consumerist dross and expanding the scope of artistic activity. The concept of possession or ownership of a work was also re-examined by some of these artists, who took a totally different route from the Pop Art and mass artistic production of the day. Their resistance to the market was expressed in the deliberately small number of works that were put into circulation and have now found their way into the sales rooms as a result. Artists such as Giovanni Anselmo and Luciano Fabro therefore have a particularly limited market and amateur collectors have to be on the ball, as only around 40 works have been auctioned in 20 years of public sales.
The works most easily found in the sales rooms are those by Alighiero BOETTI, Michelangelo PISTOLETTO and Jannis KOUNELLIS. Half of the works offered for sale by these three artists cost on average less than $10,000, and their record prices are not as high as many American artists of their generation.