Lévy Gorvy- "Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera"

Mario Merz, Fibonacci sequence 1 /144, 2002, Neon, 9 7/8 inches (25 cm) height of each letter
Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera curated by Germano Celant, Nov. 2 - Dec. 23, 2017
Installation view; Image courtesy Lévy Gorvy, New York

In celebration of Arte Povera, the post-war Italian art movement's semi-centennial anniversary, two galleries have presented exhibitions, for example, there was one that showcased the historic works from a former German gallerist's, Ingrid Goetz's collection, and the other one, that is still on view, re-examines Arte Povera's enduring influence on contemporary artists.  

Opened on November 2nd and until December 23rd, Lévy Gorvy presents Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera curated by Germano Celant. While featuring the historically significant works, this exhibition unfolds a story based on the friendship and professional exchange between the Italian critic, Germano Celant, who coined the term "Arte Povera" in the 60s, and the American gallerist, Ileana Sonnabend, who played a pivotal role in bringing Arte Povera onto the American art scene and market. The uniqueness of Lévy Gorvy's exhibition is by inviting Celant as the curator, the show provides the visitor an experience from the personal perspective of someone who first developed the idea of Arte Povera as a culturally significant post-war Italian art movement.


Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera curated by Germano Celant, Nov. 2 - Dec. 23, 2017
Installation view; Image courtesy Lévy Gorvy, New York

As mentioned in the catalogue, this exhibition devotes to Sonnabend and her link with Arte Povera. According to Celant, she had a pioneering role in bringing European contemporary art into the American market. She was also the first to organize a network of galleries to promote American contemporary art in an international market. Sonnabend took an interest in Arte Povera, because she understood the artists' complex integration of different materials, and the artistic reflection on the works' placement relating to the market.  

Since the early 1960s, Celant persistently carried out his visual research and engaged in conversations with a number of Italian artists, to understand contemporary art in the context of social meaning and cultural value.  At this time, artist Michelangelo Pistoletto introduced Ileana and Michael Sonnabend to him. When visiting their gallery in Paris, Celant saw that the gallery was not only attempting to bring American artists into the European market but also showed an immense interest in the European artists. For example, the gallery put on shows of the Nouveaux Réalistes of France along with American Pop Art, showcasing the newest forms of contemporary at the time.


Installation view of Pier Paolo Calzolari, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1971, showing ABSTRACT IN YOUR HOME (1970). 
Photograph Harry Shunk © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2014.R.20)

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Marzia con la bambina, 1964, 
Painted tissue paper on stainless steel, 78 13/16 x 47 1/4 inches (200.2 x 120 cm). © Michelangelo Pistoletto; 
Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, 
Galleria Christian Stein, Milan, and Simon Lee Gallery, London / Hong Kong

Michelangelo Pistoletto was the first Arte Povera artist Ileana Sonnabend showed.  Because the visual presentation of Pistoletto's mirror pieces had a close resemblance
to the American Pop Art that integrated popular and commercial images. Even though as Celant later pointed out that Pistoletto's intention for the mirror was to reflect the world  moving within and against the background of the work, nonetheless, Sonnabend's exhibition opened  up a new dialogue between the American art movement and the Italian one. 

Sonnabend's devotion to international art manifested in her working with individual artists, and the many collaborations based on their intellectual exchange.  When she opened her Madison Avenue space in New York in the Spring of 1970, Celant saw the gallery's inaugural exhibition presented a solo show of the Italian artist, Mario Merz, who was also an active member of Arte Povera. During the time when Abstract Expressionism dominated the American art scene and market, Sonnabend brought Arte Povera artists into the game. She worked with Merz to expand a piece called "Igloo Fibonacci," (1970).  At the suggestion of the gallerist, Merz used Cy Twombly's downtown studio to produce another igloo using more materials, and the artist also produced a sequence of glass works with numbers in neon presenting the "Fibonacci sequence."  (please see the first image of this post for the Lévy Gorvy's latest installation of this piece)

Mario Merz, Igloo, 1971, Steel tubes, neon tubing, wire mesh, transformer, and C-clamps, 
39 3/8 x 78 ¾ x 78 ¾ inches (100 x 200 x 200 cm). 
Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2001

This story as recounted by Celant reflects Sonnabend's commitment to promoting international artists. The Italian critic's professional and intellectual exchange with the American gallerist gradually evolved into a friendship that rooted in a mutual admiration for each other's work and love of contemporary art. Mentioned close to the end of the interview article in Lévy Gorvy's exhibition catalogue, Celant spoke of the shortage of research and writing on other female gallerists of Sonnabend's time. Until today, her story is still one of the many, even though her lifetime's devotion to art, and her effort to integrate and merge American and European market remain as one of the most remarkable stories in the history of modern and contemporary art.

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