Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Reflections Bring the Viewer into the Work
Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto has worked in many mediums during his career, but the basic premise of all his endeavors has been to erase the distinctions between art and life. In addition to other strategies, this has included the use of mirrors as the planes on which images are printed, creating total works of art that pull the exterior world into the pieces and then project the scenes back into the universe. A new survey at London’s Repetto Gallery, titled “The Mirror of Enigmas—Michelangelo Pistoletto,” brings together prints on stainless steel, mirror, Mylar, and other reflective surfaces from throughout the artist’s long career.
Early on, Pistoletto was one of the progenitors of Arte Povera, a movement to make art from everyday life and everyday materials. Other members included Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis, and Alighiero e Boetti. Here, Pistoletto shows some of those same concerns in photographic silkscreens on polished steel, such as La gabbietta (1962–68), which features a birdcage partially draped with fabric. (There’s also a second, brighter version of that same work.) The reflections of viewers on the printed surface brings their presence into the image—and, thus, the cage. Likewise, Scimmia in gabbia (color variation) (1962–73) portrays a confined ape, urging viewers to empathize with this intelligent and incarcerated creature.
50 Azioni. 50 Euro nella mano destra (1962–2004) features a man’s hands holding €50 notes, as if counting. A related image, 50 Azioni. Occhiali e cellulare (1962–2004), shows two hands, one holding a cell phone, the other holding a pair of sunglasses. In each, gallerygoers can imagine themselves in these familiar circumstances, making the artworks almost performative.
Many pictures show people interacting, such as the couples in Respiro (2007) and Rosa e Enzo (1983), or even the artist’s overlapping silhouette in Autoritratto di stelle (1973). Through the use of reflection, they are brought into our world as more than mere representations. “I find myself inside the picture,” Pistoletto has said, “beyond the wall that is perforated ... by the mirror.”