The Boundless Legacy of Michelangelo Pistoletto, Father of Arte Povera
The piece hung quietly on the wall behind the dinner table, its reflective surface resembling an everyday mirror that tracked the passing dinner and, in blurrier moments, may have been mistaken for a doorway into another room, where a single light bulb hung from the ceiling. These days, Pistoletto’s illusory, participatory piece is regarded as one of
In 1963, a year before that Thanksgiving dinner, Pistoletto debuted his mirror paintings to a local crowd at a small gallery in Turin, Italy. A month later, prominent French dealer Ileana Sonnabend had purchased the entire show and promised the young Italian an exhibition in Paris. The luminous works that caught her eye (photographic figures and objects silkscreened onto polished steel surfaces) soon became Pistoletto’s signature series and the foundation for a wide-ranging, transgressive body of work.
Coming out of school in the late 1950s, with an eye to
After his mirror paintings, fusion of art and life became Pistoletto’s perennial intent. In the late 1960s, he crafted a series of everyday objects from inexpensive (or “poor”) materials. Coining them “Minus Objects,” they expressed autonomy from traditional approaches to medium and valuation. He reinvented his objective again, with Venus of the Rags (1967), by placing a found reproduction of the ancient Greek statue alongside a pile of recycled cloths. Later, he turned his focus to the importance of collaboration and founded the Zoo, a shared studio space for artists working in all mediums, scales, and durations. Finally (we say with uncertainty—for Pistoletto’s work, it seems, is never done), he established Cittadellarte, a multidisciplinary platform for the creative reflection of art, society, and politics—and, in the artist’s view, his legacy.
Perhaps it is apt for an artist who has reflected in so many different formats on the interaction of art and life to describe his legacy as an “empty space.” For Pistoletto, the meaning of empty is manifold. It signifies not only a void, but also “the boundless container that is the mirror, which is always filled virtually by every existing thing.” In this sense, one imagines Pistoletto’s legacy to look something like Lampadina at the precise moment when a big, boisterous gathering plays out in front of it, reflecting shared experience—that space between art and life.
Alexxa Gotthardt is a contributing writer for Artsy.
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