Michelangelo Pistoletto

(b. 1933)

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(1933– )

Italian artist, born in Biella in Piedmont. From 1947 to 1958 he worked with his father, a picture restorer, and also did advertising work. He had his first one-man show at the Galleria Galatea, Turin, in 1960, and in 1962 he began making the ‘mirror paintings’ for which he is best known. In these he used life-size cut-out photographs of people, usually shown in arrested action, which he pasted on to thin sheets of polished steel. The spectator sees his or her own moving image reflected in the steel alongside the photographic image. They were originally associated with Pop art, but Pistoletto describes them as ‘phenomenological works in which time shows itself’. This is clearer today than in the 1960s, when the modern viewer mingles with pictures from the past. Pistoletto deliberately rejected the option of continuing with a device which had achieved great success with collectors (Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were both buyers), and subsequently worked in a wide variety of media and styles. He radically opposed the notion of the ‘signature style’ in the oggetti in meno (minus objects) he made in 1965. These were first only shown to a small group of friends, but alongside the contemporary works of Pino Pascali now appear as important early examples of Arte Povera. Some of the pieces openly invited spectator participation. Pistoletto saw Arte Povera as concerned not just with poor materials but with defining a model for Italy independent of the pressures from the axis represented by America, the Vatican, and the Mafia on one side and Soviet-inspired Communism on the other. The combination of these two ideas is present in his best-known work, Venus of the Rags (1967/remade 1974, Tate). A marble sculpture of Venus is placed against the wall and surrounded by a colourful array of fragments of fabric. This unforgettable image is open to different levels of interpretation. Germano Celant saw the rags as representative of ‘the confusion and multivalence of marginalized people…perverts, convicts, racial minorities, women and prisoners’. However, the turning to the wall could also be related to Pistoletto's preoccupation with reflection and its absence. There was also a strongly performative element to his work. In 1966 he rolled a large ball covered in newspaper through the streets of Turin; it picked up dirt on the way. The work was called Mappomondo. He has set up a Pistoletto Foundation in Biella. Established in an old textile factory, this is conceived not so much as a museum for the artist's work but as a centre for research into the relationship between art and society.

http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/people/stallabrass_julian/essays/pistoletto_interview.pdf J. Stallabrass, ‘Reflections on Art, Time and Poverty: An interview with Michelangelo Pistoletto’, on the Courtauld website.

Subjects: Art.

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