Michelangelo Pistoletto, ‘Gabriella’, 1987, Phillips

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From the Catalogue:
Gabriella, a reflective stainless steel surface with the photo-silkscreened image of a woman in a black suit, is a seminal example of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s most celebrated series, the Quadri Specchianti or Mirror Paintings. Frustrated with the traditional imitative relationship between painting and reality, from a very young age the artist sought a different medium to express his vision and found it in the unbounded and infinite nature of the mirror. The present work was a personal gift from the artist to his subject and friend, Gabriella Papini, in 1987.

In 1956 the artist began experimenting with a number of different surfaces for his autoritratti, a series which was influenced by the Francis Bacon exhibition Pistoletto had seen at Galatea Galleria d'Arte Contemporanea in Turin. He had perfected his technique by 1962 when he substituted glossy backgrounds with highly polished and mirror-like stainless steel surfaces upon which he pasted photo-like images. Initially hand painted and traced onto thin tissue paper, then reversed and pasted onto a steel plate, the images later became more mechanically formulated. After 1971, the artist began to silkscreen four-colour printed images, creating an oeuvre that continues to pose both artistic and intellectual challenges today.

At the heart of the artist’s Quadri Specchianti lie the friends, acquaintances, fellow artists and studio visitors who became the subjects of his work. The artist rarely identified his subjects by name, even when featuring easily recognisable characters such as the dealer Gian Enzo Sperone or fellow artist Alighiero Boetti. Unlike Bacon, who expressed the anguish and pain of the human condition in his portraits, Pistoletto sought to make his subjects expressionless and impersonal and, thus, universal.

In the present work, a beautiful woman wearing a black suit and a white shirt confronts us. Holding a large bag, her body and gaze are directed away from the viewer. Her face is enigmatic, half smiling as though inviting the viewer to join her somewhere, and half sad, as if she was about to depart the scene. Floating in space and time, Gabriella is waiting for the onlooker’s reflection to interact with her. A phenomenological device that offers a transitory experience, the mirror draws the spectator in, inviting them to become an active participant in dialogue with the work. Gabriella, an archetypal and exemplary composition, masterfully distorts the boundaries between past and present, illusion and reality, art and life.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Michelangelo Pistoletto 1987 ">Gabriella<" Non esiste luce se non c'é un posto su cui essa si posa' on the reverse

New York, Barbara Mathes Gallery, Reflections, 8 September - 22 October 2016

Gabriella Papini (gifted by the artist in 1987)
Private Collection, Milan (acquired in 2013)
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Michelangelo Pistoletto

A leading figure in the development of Arte Povera and Conceptual art, Michelangelo Pistoletto is best known for his “mirror paintings” beginning in the 1960s, which first used grounds of metallic paint on canvas before rejecting canvas entirely for polished steel. Pistoletto’s life-size, photo-silkscreened images of people atop highly reflective surfaces integrate the environment and viewer into the work. In his “minus objects,” sculptures that explore how objects become artworks through the ideas they express, Pistoletto uses “poor” materials as a liberation from the traditional art system, as in his 1967 work Venus of the Rags, a copy of the classical figure set against a mound of old clothes and rags. An early performance art innovator, Pistoletto founded The Zoo in the late 1960s, which joined artists, intellectuals, and the public for collaborative “actions” that unified art and daily life.

Italian, b. 1933, Biella, Italy, based in Turin, Italy