A leading figure in the postwar Arte Povera movement, Pier Paolo Calzolari (b. 1943; Bologna, Italy) is renowned for the material inventiveness and formal originality of his expansive, genre-defying practice. Working with equal fluency in painting, sculpture, installation, and performance, Calzolari’s work embraces a fascination with the alchemical while examining the potential of light, the essence of memory, and the poetic character of the natural world and the urban environment.
Calzolari’s highly charged, contemplative creations revolve around concerns of light, matter, and space. The artist spent much of his youth in Venice, and the city’s particular light—its reflection on the marble and mosaics—had a profound influence on his work. In 1965, he joined four other artists in founding Studio Bentivoglio in Bologna, Italy. Against the backdrop of postwar political and economic instability, the artists of Studio Bentivoglio sought new ways of making art. Working with simple, commonplace materials—as well as performance and happenings—the Studio Bentivoglio artists critiqued both the technologization and industrialization of modern society and the commercialization of art itself. One of the youngest artists of the movement, Calzolari has, throughout his career, continued to build upon the ethos of Arte Povera, a name coined by curator and critic Germano Celant. Calzolari’s ongoing interest in “poor” materials, in performance, in matter and transience, in light and beauty have come to define his oeuvre.
Calzolari’s materials are elemental and frequently organic—fire, salt, lead, tobacco, moss, burnt wood, oyster shells, tobacco leaves, felt, neon, and butter. While his materials may be poor, it is “...an impoverishment brimming with spiritual insight and celestial visions,” curator Massimiliano Gioni writes. Fascinated with the elemental and the alchemical, Calzolari engages extreme natural elements—including both fire and frost—among his media of choice, while continuing to experiment with the commonplace materials and signature motifs that came out of Arte Povera. While many of his peers frequently embrace an avant-garde rejection of the cultural past, Calzolari continually employs his inventive materials to engage in a deliberate dialogue with art history, often making reference to themes and motifs found in Byzantine, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Now in his late 70s, Calzolari is still working, primarily as a painter; he is, as critic Will Heinrich writes, “the rare conceptual artist whose paintings really look like paintings.” In recent work, he uses organic materials—salt, lead, and frost, most notably—to build texture and depth within contemplative and atmospheric compositions that explore themes of life, death, and, ultimately, regeneration—a potent and hopeful reflection on the cyclical state of nature.
Calzolari's work is currently the subject of a solo exhibition, Casa ideale, at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Villa Paloma, Monaco. A forthcoming survey of Arte Povera curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev for the Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection in Paris, France will feature Calzolari's work. In 2019, Calzolari was the subject of a major retrospective, Painting as a Butterfly, at the Madre Museum in Naples, Italy, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva and Andrea Villani. Calzolari’s work is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Sammlung Goetz, Munich, Germany; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; and Palazzo Grassi, Punta della Dogana François Pinault Foundation, Venice, Italy, among others. He has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Documenta IX, Kassel Germany; Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France, Venice Biennale, Italy; Ca’ Pesaro, Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, Venice, Italy; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. The artist currently lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal.