Home Magazine Michelangelo Pistoletto: a living legend!

Michelangelo Pistoletto has become what can be considered to be a living legend... There's no museum, foundation or art fair in which one of his works did not leave a trace. One of his most iconic artworks is the famous series of "Mirror Painting" that besides being a post-war masterpiece, after more than fifty years is still an overwhelming mechanism for the dialogue with the observer.

But who's the artist and what is the most important thing that we need to know about him? We have already started analyzing some of the figures belonging to Italian Pop Art, now is's the turn of the Piedmontese artist. Related articles: The life and work of Mimmo Rotella-The Yayoi Kusama mania!-"THE GREAT EXHIBITION" by Gilbert & George

Born and surrounded by art in the city of Biella (1933), Michelangelo started his artistic education since he was a child, thanks to his father's job as a painter and restorer. At the age of twenty, the artist attended the school of advertising graphics in Turin; the school was founded by the famous Italian advertiser and artist Armando Testa. This experience will turn out to be fundamental for his future approach to the theme of artistic communication. In 1955 he created his first self-portrait and also start to work on life-size works, in which the background is treated with glossy paints of black, gold, silver and copper, with a reflective effect. At the end of this decade, he had his debut with a solo exhibition at the Galatea Gallery in Turin, presented by Luigi Carluccio. 

Discover more about Michelangelo Pistoletto...

A magical year for Pistoletto was 1962 when he conceived his first "Mirror paintings": in these works, the canvas is replaced by a polished stainless steel plate, on which an image is applied on life-size tissue paper, traced by a photograph and subsequently painted. These "Quadri", exhibited for the first time in 1963 in Turin and presented the following year at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris, decreed the success and international spread of his work by creating a suggestive relationship between the characters reported on the mirror and the viewer.  



At the end of 1965, after having conceived the "Plexiglass" cycle, he exhibited the series of works entitled "Minus Objects" in his home studio; these are heterogeneous elements (for materials and the process of execution), which want to undermine the statistical recognizability of the artist and the process of standardization of his work.

“At the end of 1964, Leo Castelli told me, hurry up and make some more paintings because the others have all been sold or placed with museums and I want to give you a show right away. [...] I returned to Italy to make the Minus Objects and how I reacted to an idea of the market that rained power on a cultural and practical control that forced you to feel you were part of a clan or alone. I chose to be alone because I was convinced that the work I had developed had grown up on a cultural soil that had not been laid to waste but constituted an important legacy” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with Germano Celant).


Michelangelo Pistoletto 'Oltre Lo Specchio' Exhibition view, Galleria Continua, Beijing. Photo Oak Taylor Smith.
Courtesy: Artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Havana


These works made by essentially simple and primary materials, pave the way for the "Arte Povera" movement in which the artist, among others important Italian artist, became the group's major animators, also by presenting performative actions and happenings, together with the Zoo group, active from 1968 to 1970. From October 1975 to September 1976 Pistoletto created a temporal work at the Stein Gallery in Turin, divided into twelve exhibitions each one entitled "The room" and based on the concept of the space. Then, in the following years, he returns to the theme of the mirror, which he elaborates in works such as Mirror Division and Multiplication.

Beginning in 1981 he faced a series of monumental sculptures in rigid polyurethane, subsequently translated into polychrome marble for the exhibition at the Forte di Belvedere in Florence in 1984. During the nineties, he founded the Cittadellarte project - Fondazione Pistoletto, a space for cultural sharing and artistic research, which is based in his born city Biella. In this period one of Pistoletto's most important work called "The third paradise":


Michelangelo Pistoletto, Third Paradise, installation at Fort of Exilles. 


The fusion between the first and second paradise. The first is the paradise in which humans were fully integrated into nature. The second is the artificial paradise, developed by human intelligence to globalizing proportions through science and technology. This paradise is made of artificial needs, artificial products, artificial comforts, artificial pleasures, and every other form of artifice. Humankind has created a truly artificial world which has triggered, in an exponential manner and in parallel with beneficial effects, irreversible processes of decline and consumption of the natural world. The Third Paradise is the third phase of humanity, realized as a balanced connection between artifice and nature. (Michelangelo Pistoletto, 2003

Cover image Michelangelo Pistoletto. Oltre lo Specchio. The opening view at Galleria Continua, Beijing 2018. Photo Oak Taylor Smith. Courtesy artist & Galleria Continua


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