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Germano Celant, 1940-2020


Guest Germano Celant. Photo credit: Sandy Smallens

Art Agency, Partners
Germano Celant, 1940-2020

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

The art historian, critic and curator Germano Celant— one of the most influential art thinkers of the postwar period—died of complications from Covid-19 in Milan this week. Celant, who coined the term Arte Povera in 1967, organized some of the most beautiful exhibitions in recent memory: “Jannis Kounellis” at the Prada Foundation in Venice last year was pure poetry in art. In his landmark essay “Arte Povera: Notes for a Guerrilla War”, he wrote: “No longer among the ranks of the exploited, the artist becomes a guerrilla fighter, capable of choosing his places of battle and with the advantages conferred by mobility, surprising and striking, rather than the other way around”.

Celant joined Allan Schwartzman and host Charlotte Burns in late 2017 for this conversation about everything from “Poor Art” to politics in art, or the ways in which the American art market has come to dominate the history of art. “Art history has to be rewritten,” Celant says in the interview, because American museums promoted a history based on formalism: “Anything that has some ideology has been completely canceled. Action painting and the Abstract Expressionists cancel all this kind of content. In order to understand European art, especially Italian, you have to understand Futurism. Futurism is a total language that includes not only painting, but the idea about changing the world: fashion, design, sexuality. And, if you don’t understand that, and you don’t rewrite history in a certain way—the idea of the political engagement of the art—you don’t understand what’s happened today.” American history based around “the formal object that stays in the house, that’s a decoration for the apartment. It’s a commodity. It’s not a political action.”

Click here for full transcript

Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words. I'm your host, Charlotte Burns, and joining us is the renowned art historian and curator Germano Celant. Hello Germano. Germano Celant: Hi. Charlotte Burns: And Allan Schwartzman. Allan Schwartzman: Hi. Charlotte Burns: Germano, it has been 50 years since you wrote…


Germano Celant

art historian, theoretician and curator

The art historian and theoretician Germano Celant (1940-2020) coined the term Arte Povera in 1967 and had promoted the movement and its artists until his death from Covid-19. 

Celant had organized hundreds of exhibitions in prominent international museums and institutions. He was the senior curator of contemporary art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York between 1989 and 2008. He had worked with the Fondazione Prada since 1995, and was its artistic and scientific superintendent. Beginning in 2005, he had been the curator of the Fondazione Aldo Rossi, Milan and beginning in 2008 of the Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venice. He was the artistic co-director of the first Biennale di Arte & Moda in Florence in 1996, and, in 1997, the director of the 47th Biennale di Venezia. He organized the Brazilian Pavillon at the 49th Biennale di Venezia in 2001.

In 2004, he was appointed Artistic Supervisor for “Genova 2004, European Capital of Culture”. From 2009 until 2011 he was the Curator of Art and Architecture at La Triennale di Milano, Milan. In 2015 he was the Curator of the exhibition “Arts & Foods: Rituals from 1851” in the Art Pavilion of Expo 2015 at the Triennale di Milano. In 2016 he was the Project Director of The Floating Piers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude work at Lago d’Iseo. 

In 1987, Celant received The Frank Jewett Mather Award, honoring exceptional art criticism; in 2004, an honorary degree in Architecture from Università degli Studi in Genoa; and, in 2013, The Agnes Gund Curatorial Award from Independent Curators International, New York. He has authored more than 100 publications and was also a contributing editor to Artforum for 40 years and to Interview Magazine for almost three decades. He was the art columnist for the Italian weekly magazine L’Espresso and the Italian design magazine Interni.

Allan Schwartzman

Allan Schwartzman was a Founder and Principal of AAP. He brought to the company more than 20 years’ experience in advising some of the world’s most influential and sophisticated collectors in forming their holdings of contemporary art, both individually and in conjunction with their stewardship of major museums.

Schwartzman is also widely respected as an independent curator, most notably for Instituto Inhotim, the visionary contemporary art park set within a 5,000-acre botanical garden in Brazil. As creative director and chief curator of Inhotim, he has been central to developing the collection of the renowned institution and commissioning its signature site-specific works by artists including Chris Burden, Giuseppe Penone, Matthew Barney, Doris Salcedo, Doug Aitken, Rivane Neuenschwander, Olafur Eliasson and Rirkrit Tiravanija, including projects that could not have been realized anywhere else.

Known equally as a tastemaker in contemporary art and an authority on the art market, Schwartzman is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, Art Basel and notable events around the world.

Schwartzman was a founding staff member of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City and served as curator from 1977 to 1980. He has written extensively about art for publications including The New Yorker, the New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Artforum and Art in America and was a contributing editor of Connoisseur. He served as a board member of Franklin Furnace from 1980 to 2000 and currently serves on the Board of Artists Space, one of New York’s premier alternative spaces, having also served as the board’s president.

Charlotte Burns

executive editor of In Other Words

Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

The live record

Behind the Scenes: Talking Art History with Germano Celant and Allan Schwartzman

6 Images


By Jason Katzenstein

Current Shows by Germano Celant

“Contingencies: Arte Povera and After” at Luxembourg & Dayan, New York (until 16 December)

“Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera” at Lévy Gorvy, New York (until 23 December)

Famous Artists from Chicago: 1965-1975“, “H.C. Westermann“, and “Leon Golub” at Fondazione Prada, Milan (until 15 January)

“Nuvolo and Post-War Materiality 1950-1965” at Di Donna Galleries, New York (until 26 January)


More on Germano Celant

His essay “Arte Povera: Notes for a Guerrilla War”, in Flash Art (1967)

“Galerie Gmurzynska and Germano Celant Pioneer a New Wave of Art Basel Curation”, in Forbes (2015)

“Famous Artists of Chicago at Fondazione Prada”, in Blouin Artinfo (18 October 2017)

“The Risorgimento of Arte Povera”, in The Brooklyn Rail (2 November 2017)

Where to look

"Contingencies: Arte Povera and After" at Luxembourg & Dayan, New York (until 16 December)

7 Images

"Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera" at Lévy Gorvy, New York (until 23 December)

10 Images

Current Shows at the Fondazione Prada, Milan (until 15 January)

9 Images

"Nuvolo and Post-War Materiality" at Di Donna Galleries, New York (until 26 January)

5 Images

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