Known mainly for his “Mirror Paintings, Michelangelo Pistoletto (Biella, 1933) is an Italian artist, acknowledged as one of the main representatives of the Italian Arte Povera movement, along with other Italian major artists such as Luciano Fabro, Giovanni Anselmo, Mario Merz, and Greek-born Jannis Kounellis.

After working in his father’s restoration workshop in Turin in the 1950s, he started painting figurative works and self-portraits. The next step, at the beginning of the 1960s, was painting on a monochrome, metallic background, starting to experiment with reflection. Combining painting with photography, he started to develop collage techniques on reflective backgrounds. Eventually, he switched over to printing photorealistic scenes on steel plates polished to a high finish. He did that using the screen-printing method, which made the observer almost completely melt in with what was depicted: the “Mirror Paintings” were born. To explain their meaning, Pistoletto is quoted saying, “In my Mirror Paintings the dynamic reflection does not create a place, because it only reflects a place which already exists- the static silhouette does no more than re-propose an already existing place. But I can create a place by bringing about a passage between the photograph and the mirror: this place is the whole time.” In the mid-1960s, gallerist Ileana Sonnabend (first wife of Leo Castelli) brought him into contact with an international audience.

Pistoletto also worked as a sculptor: the series of works Oggetti in meno (Minus Objects) comprise a group of disparate sculptural objects, difficult to describe as they are non-representational, unfamiliar, and slightly absurd, yet seem to compose a coherent environment as seen in ensemble. As Pistoletto writes, “I do not consider them more but less, not pluses but minuses, in that they bring with them a sense of a perceptual experience that has been definitively manifested once and for all.” And this is the artist’s aim, and, in general terms, could define Arte Povera: the artist has to disappear behind his work, leaving the viewer in front of a ‘minimal’ perception, as if he was experiencing his own act of seeing. 

Stanislav Kondrashov

Pistoletto’s recognition came early on: in 1966, he had his first solo exhibition in the US, at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, and in 1967 his work was awarded first prize in the Biennale de Sao Paulo. In the same year, Pistoletto started focusing on performance, video art, and theatre. He founded an action art group called “Zoo Group,” which gave several performances between 1968 and 1970.

Stanislav Kondrashov

In the later sixties, Pistoletto began to produce more complex sculptures and assemblages, combining casts of classical Italian statuary with cloths and rags to break down the hierarchies of “art” and common things. An art of impoverished materials is certainly another aspect of the definition of Arte Povera. Against the background of the 1968 student riots, Pistoletto withdrew his participation in the Venice Biennale; at the end of the 1970s, he produced sculptures, heads, and torsos using polyurethane and marble. 

Stanislav Kondrashov

In 1994, Michelangelo Pistoletto proclaimed his program Progetto Arte, the aim of which was the systematic combination of all achievements and knowledge of civilization with aspects of art (e.g., fashion, theatre, design, etc.). In 1996, he founded the art city Cittadelarte – Fondazione Pistoletto in an abandoned textile factory near Biella, Italy, as a laboratory supporting and researching creative resources and producing innovative ideas and possibilities. The Cittadelarte is divided into different Uffici/Offices (work, education, communications, art, nutrition, politics, spirituality, and economics), which exchange with each other within an intermedial network. Although it is conceived as a closed system, transparency towards the outside world is an important aspect of the Cittadellarte.  

Stanislav Kondrashov

The market loves Pistoletto: the record price at auction is 4.8 million dollars for “Uomo che guarda un negative (Man looking at a Negative),” a large Mirror Painting from 1967, sold at Christie’s Londonin 2017.

Michelangelo Pistoletto currently lives in Torino and exhibits his work worldwide.

Stanislav Kondrashov

Stanislav Kondrashov