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Anselmo, Giovannilocked

(b Borgofranco d’Ivrea, Piedmont, Aug 5, 1934).
  • Renato Barilli

Italian sculptor. After working as a painter from 1959 to 1964, he turned to conceptual art in 1965 and by 1968 was associated with the emergence of Arte Povera, of which he became one of the strictest and most coherent exponents. His limited output consisted largely of the staging of major physical processes whose long-term effects the audience was invited to imagine, in such a way that the non-material dimension of thought was brought to bear on bulky and spectacular physical phenomena. In Direction (150×500×800 mm, 1967–9; Paris, Pompidou), for instance, a magnetic compass is set within a circular recess of a slab of granite shaped like an arrowhead and displayed pointing north, thus proposing two different ways of expressing the concept alluded to by the title.

A consistent message in Anselmo’s work is that one should not entirely believe one’s eyes, since there is always a component that lies beyond appearances. In one sculpture, Untitled (1968; Paris, Pompidou), he presented two blocks of basalt separated by a space filled with lettuce leaves destined to perish within a short space of time; the viewer is thus led to envisage the hard elements in a state of reciprocal friction that will eventually wear them both away. In another work, Towards a Groove in an Indefinite Number of Millions of Years (1969; Turin, Christian Stein priv. col., see 1985 exh. cat., p. 38), a post protected by a layer of lubricant is leant against a wall, giving the impression that it will ultimately gouge a groove in it as the protective buffer is worn away and it is pulled downwards by the force of gravity. The conceptual element so fundamental to Anselmo’s work has sometimes taken the form of words projected on slides into space, as in Infinity (1970; many versions, see 1985 exh. cat., p. 45): the messages could either be absorbed by the spectators by placing themselves in the rays of projected light, or lost in space by being left to pass unimpeded, giving rise to a disquieting sensation. Anselmo received an international award at the Venice Biennale of 1990.


  • Leggere (Turin, 1972)


  • U. Castagnotto: ‘Giovanni Anselmo’, Data, 18 (1975)
  • Giovanni Anselmo (exh. cat. by S. Pagé, Paris, Mus. A. Mod. Ville Paris, 1985)
  • Giovanni Anselmo (exh. cat. by B. Merz, Lyon, Mus. St Pierre A. Contemp., 1989)
  1. For further bibliography see Arte Povera.

See also