Over the past forty years, Giovanni Anselmo has produced a body of sculptural work that has bridged the gap between poetics and physics. Emerging in the 1960s with a group of Italian artists gathered by curator Germano Celant under the heading Arte Povera, Anselmo became fascinated with the sculptural possibilities of invisible energies, such as magnetism and gravity, that pervade our natural environment. Like many other artists associated with Arte Povera, including Mario Merz and Alighiero Boetti, Anselmo embarked on a search for a new vocabulary of three-dimensional form. His investigations led him toward a wide range of nontraditional sculptural materials, such as granite, iron, cotton, vegetable matter, and light, which gave him the freedom to explore the all-pervasive character of the unseen forces of nature, because “… energy exists beneath the most varied of appearances and situations.”1
Much of his work can be described in the sense of what American art historian Rosalind Krauss has termed “sculpture in the expanded field.” In Anselmo’s case, this expanded sculptural field extends beyond the actual materials of the artwork itself into the world around us. This can be seen clearly in his 1967–1970 sculpture Direzione (Direction), which makes manifest his preoccupation with the universal laws of physics. The work consists of a slab of schist (a metamorphic rock formed by high temperatures and intense pressure) that has been cut into a triangle resembling the shape of an arrowhead. In its surface the artist has embedded a compass so that the sculpture can be oriented with its apex pointing toward true north. By channeling the natural physical forces of the cosmos, Direzione offers a path beyond the traditional constraints of sculpture and the space of the gallery, and in so doing directs the viewer to move into the infinite expanse of the universe that surrounds us. As Anselmo says, “The work continues beyond the bounds of space, because the [sic] magnetism is the cause of orientation in the macrophysical world.”2 In his hands then, sculpture constitutes a nodal point in a matrix of infinite physical forces that permeate the world we inhabit.
Giovanni Anselmo, “I, the World, Things, Life,” in Germano Celant, Arte Povera (New York: Praeger, 1969), 109. Reprinted in Richard Flood and Frances Morris, Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2001), 178. ↩
Artist’s statement, June 30, 1997 (Walker Art Center Archives). ↩