On Friday 3 November 2023, PAV Parco Arte Vivente, with the context of the Art Fair Artissima, opened the exhibition “Car Crash. Piero Gilardi e l’arte povera” curated by Marco Scotini, which explores the production of Piero Gilardi (Turin, 1942-2023) during the 1960s. The exhibition is intended as a tribute to the founder of PAV and retraces the beginnings of the artist’s career by exploring the years from 1964 to 1969, a germinal season during which Gilardi’s multiple interests and his great contribution to the origin of the Arte Povera movement are already outlined. Car Crash is the first of a series of monographic exhibitions in a long-term PAV project that, following a chronological partition, will delve into the artist’s work.
The exhibition traverses a rich, albeit brief, moment (five years in all) marked by Gilardi’s involvement in some of the most important stages of the Arte Povera movement, including the Arte Abitabile exhibition (1966) at the Galleria Sperone, the creation of the Deposito d’Arte Presente in Turin (1967-1969), the theory of micro-emotive art, until his definitive liberation from the movement with the arte povera più azioni povere exhibition at the Arsenali in Amalfi (1968). From the very beginning, his interest in the relationship between technology, human beings and nature and his desire to create functional works of art animated by the viewer emerged, as did his openness to other disciplines, such as his experiences in the field of radical design at the end of the 1960s. What emerges is Gilardi’s untiring desire to understand and theorise the deeper meaning of art and the work of artists he met on an international and national level, going from inventor of forms to inventor of formations: his definition of ‘micro-emotive art’ is an example of this. This commitment can be seen in the many letters he wrote to friends and colleagues, and in the correspondence for the magazine Flash Art sent from New York and various European cities, and heralds the importance of his theoretical contribution to two milestone exhibitions such as Op Losse Schroeven (Amsterdam, 1969) and When Attitudes Become Form (Berne, 1969). This analytical thinking, which included a critical stance on the mechanisms governing the system and the art market, led Gilardi to choose to temporarily distance himself from the national and international art scene from 1969 onwards, in order to devote himself to political activism in continuity with the demands raised by the political movements of 1968.
The title Car Crash, borrowed from a project that was never realised for the Piper Pluriclub in Turin, in which Gilardi refers to the image of “a car slipping silently on the black oil of the floor”, becomes a metaphor for those sulphurous years during which the encounter and clash with the art system and the construction and deconstruction of relationships, theories and imaginaries are the sign of the high stakes of art at that time. And it is precisely with the dynamic experience of the Piper and the exhibition of the carpets-nature set up inside the club in January 1967 that the PAV exhibition opens. The discotheque, or rather the Turin ‘amusement factory’, to use Tommaso Trini’s definition of it, from the second half of the 1970s was open to welcoming experimentation and different forms of performance art, from Carmelo Bene to Living Theatre, and became fertile ground for artists who, like Gilardi, orbited around the Arte Povera movement, including Pistoletto, Merz and Boetti.
Gilardi’s openness towards an art designed to be experienced and to directly involve the spectator took shape as early as the birth of the nature-rugs, environments made of polyurethane foam to be walked on and lived in, which the artist worked on from 1965. The series of works stems from a suggestion he had during a nature walk along the banks of the Sangone torrent near Turin, during which the artist came across a pile of rubbish abandoned on the bank. Hence the desire to create forms representative of an ideal natural context but using an artificial and contemporary material such as expanded polyurethane, a technology that allows the creation of “aesthetic objects that are practically usable”. “I am the product of a great age for technology and yet I love nature. There must also be a way to bring these two sensations together,’ declares a young Gilardi in the article Seven plus seven artists of today their works their clothes published in the magazine Uomo Vogue in 1969.
Finally, it was during those years that Gilardi’s multifaceted activity saw the elaboration of the foam rubber processing method and specifically the invention by the artist of a manipulation-resistant colouring and finishing process. This formula was applied to the industrial production of bold design products through his collaboration with the Gufram company. An encounter that gave life to the iconic Sedilsasso (1968), a pouf designed by Gilardi himself, and to other products that were part of the ferment generated by radical Italian design later recognised on an international scale with the exhibition Italy, The New Domestic Landscape, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in September 1972.
The exhibition Car Crash – Piero Gilardi and Arte Povera recounts the young artist Piero Gilardi, through three fundamental themes (the extra-artistic space; from pop costume to political costume; the production of useful art) with the intention of going to the root of his work and raising the founding questions of his practice that, developing over a long career, led to the foundation of PAV Parco Arte Vivente. This experimental centre for contemporary art today interprets nature from a public park in the urban landscape, a meeting place and workshop experience with ecology, the public and artists at the centre, “the project of a lifetime”.
The documents and works in the exhibition were collected through collaboration with Archivio Domus, Archivio Fotografico Enrico Cattaneo, Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto, Archivio Derossi Associati, Centro di Ricerca Castello di Rivoli (CRRI), Fondazione Centro Studi Piero Gilardi, Fondazione Merz, Galleria Giraldi, Galleria Lia Rumma, Gufram.
In the context of the Car Crash exhibition, PAV’s Educational and Training Activities are proposing, for schools and groups, an articulated programme of activities entirely dedicated to the methodological research and works of Piero Gilardi, which can be consulted on the website. For families, by reservation only, on the second Sunday of each month a special visit to Gilardi’s Bioma interactive path is scheduled, followed by the activation of Gilardi’s educational work Puzzle-nature Marina delle Canarie (2015, 53 elements of polyurethane foam, rubber latex, wicker basket). An interactive work that can be completely assembled and contains stones, shells, sea urchins, fragments of palm trees, clumps of volcanic or grassy soil. The puzzle is available to visitors who are invited to interact with the work by creating ever-changing shapes. Other versions of the nature puzzles can be found at the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (NL) and Nottingham Contemporary (UK).
Car Crash. Piero Gilardi e l’arte povera, curated by Marco Scotini, PAV- Parco Art Vivente, 3.11 – 28.04.2023
The exhibition is realised with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo, Fondazione CRT, Regione Piemonte and the City of Turin. The documents and works in the exhibition have been collected through collaboration with Archivio Domus, Archivio Fotografico Enrico Cattaneo, Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto, Archivio Derossi Associati, Centro di Ricerca Castello di Rivoli (CRRI), Fondazione Centro Studi Piero Gilardi, Fondazione Merz, Galleria Giraldi, Galleria Lia Rumma, Gufram.
images: (cover 1) Mostra, «Tappeti Natura», Piper Club, Turin, 1967. Photo Credit: Pietro Derossi (2) Piero Gilardi in his atelier in Via Pastrengo 28, Turin, 1967 (3-4-7) Car Crash. Piero Gilardi e l’arte povera, Installation view of the exhibition at PAV – Parco Arte Vivente, 2023. Courtesy PAV – Parco Arte Vivente, Turin (5) Piero Gilardi, «Orecchini Cavoli», 1967,polyurethane foam (6) Piero Gilardi, «Vestito Natura Sassi», 1967, performance at the Van Abbemuseum, curated by Diana Franssen, Eindhoven, September 2012. Photo Credit: Peter Cox.