NICE, FRANCE.- The Nice Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is devoting its temporary exhibition spaces to the powerful and extraordinary work of Michelangelo Pistoletto, on view through November 4, 2007. The exhibition includes 68 works, mostly from the artists personal collection, which will acquaint visitors with his entire career, from the Self-Portraits and Mirror Paintings of the 60s, through the Arte Povera works, Minus Objects and Divided Mirrors of the 70s, to Art Sign, his latest concept, materialized in objects of everyday use. There are also numerous documents relating to his performances of the 80s, and to Cittadellarte, site of the University of Ideas he has created in Biella, Italy. The artists humanist dimension is unique. It gives an ethical basis to his oeuvre, broadening it.
The exhibition opens with Autoritratto oro 1960 and Il Presente Uomo di schiena 1960-61. The effect of the glossy varnish that covers these early oils on canvas, appeared to the artist to reflect an other realitythat of the viewer standing in front of the painting, seeing in its surface himself and the surrounding space of the gallery or studio.
Next, Pistoletto devised backgrounds of polished steel, over which he applied the fixed image of a more or less anonymous figurefirst in adhesive vellum, then in silkscreen. These are the Quadri Specchianti, or Mirror Paintings, in which the duplication of the image becomes a theater of analytic perception. The sequential play, in the mirror, of reflections of the immediate surroundings, including us as viewers as we survey the room and approach the work, causes first surprise, then reflection of the cerebral kind. Time and space telescope on the bright surface, leading to a loss of the fixed points that ordinarily mark out our true life, but here are scrambled in a dizzying manner. The work is two-dimensional, because its a picture with height and width; it has a depth that suggests three-dimensionality; it is four-dimensional because one perceives the true measure of time. All time is there: past, present and future (from Conversation with Michelangelo Pistoletto / Gilbert Perlein).
After setting a significant and spectacular course, in the early 60s, with the Quadri Specchianti, Pistoletto shifted expectations in a provocative way with the Minus Objects. In just a few months, in late 1965 and early 1966, he created a group of works that were unusual not because of their astonishing and sometimes commonplace appearance (mobili, letto
) but because of their juxtaposition in a single spacehis studio, first of all, then cutting-edge contemporary art galleries. In 1965-66 I brought together a series of works under the title, Minus Objects. Though they were proposed as volumes, all of these objects made reference to an idea of subtraction, of material displacement, of materiality that they did not attempt align with the obtuse power of an alienating monumentality (from Mots, published for the exhibition at Centre dart contemporain du Creux de lEnfer, Thiers, 1993).
To identify the author of these works on stylistic grounds is out of the question. Objects as different as an antique wooden Virgin protected by orange plexiglas (Scultura lignea 1965-66), or a gigantic, open rose made of partially burned corrugated cardboard (Rosa bruciata 1965), rub elbows with a large-scale photograph of Jasper Johns ears, or with an oblong vitrine displaying mens clothing (Vetrina 1965). Works like Casa a misura duomo, Lampada a mercurio and Mappamondo have nothing in common. Even the term, minus objects, continues, today, to make critics ink flow. The most complete expression of this series is undoubtedly the Cubic Meter of Infinity, a closed cube whose six inner faces are mirrors. Clearly, from the outside one does not see these mirrors, which endlessly reflect one another in the darkness of the boxor so one imagines. It is the quintessence of concept.
These works preceded the theoretical framework of Arte Povera constructed by Germano Celant in 1967. Michelangelo Pistoletto was not part of the initial presentation of Arte Povera, at Galerie La Bertesca in 1967; he first showed with the others at Galerie Stein-Sperone-Il Punto in December 1967, in Con temp lazione. Celant theorized the main intuitions and common characteristics of the fifteen or so artists, and acknowledged the new meaning they brought to the Turin art scene by offering original responses to a formal inquiry centered on the means of art. Michelangelo Pistolettos work took form at that time when the 50s climate of alienation and existential angstthe cultural malaise of a society wholly focused on wellbeingoverflowed into the 60s. The artist confronted this society, the art world and its financial or aesthetic dictates. The period was seething with creative ideas in all areas of artistic endeavor, in writing as in music and theater, on a scene where these activities came together. Venere degli Stracci 1967 and Pietra miliare 1967 came from the repertory of antiquity, but Borne is etched with the date 1967, and Venus is half buried in a heap of brightly colored, used rags, which symbolize contemporary consumer society while recalling the traditional way of life of those families who used and reused the even humblest material until it turned to dust.
At the same time Michelangelo Pistoletto took his investigation of the mirror in another direction. He delved into the basic structure of the material, dividing that structure in two, four, n fragments, all of which continued to work as the principal element had. He progressed by dividing and multiplying the mirror. Each part had the power to capture the universe and to give it back. Pistoletto extended the mirrors basic function by dividing it until its reflective capability approached infinity. His works became more and more imposing, with visual repercussions in the spaces they occupied, which were chosen by virtue of their meditative atmosphere.
In 1968, at the Venice Biennale, Pistoletto presented the manifesto of Collaboration. This act marked the birth of the Zoo, an open-ended group that proposed an art of creative exchange, of discovery of the identity of others. The Zoo proposed an intersubjective activity that was neither theater, nor happening, strictly speaking, but that aspired to take artistic creation beyond the object. This sort of activity has cropped up time and again in Pistolettos artistic endeavors, often involving family, friends and fellow artists; it gained its most concrete expression in the creation of Cittadellarte, in Biella, in 1996. At Cittadellarte he applied the action of dividing-multiplying the mirror to a microcosmic society. In an old mill, in a region once specialized in making threads and yarns from the most beautiful wools, in an imposing architectural context, he brought researchersveteran or novice artists, writers, and scientiststo a sort of crucible where the exchange of ideas sparks an active collaboration with far-reaching social benefits.
One work in particular stands out from the group: The Etruscan and the Roman Road, 1976. Brilliantly installed in the last room of the show, it includes the bronze reproduction of an orator, L´arringatore, of the first century BC (a symbol of the integration of present and past, of the new Roman civilization in the illustrious but obsolete one of the Etruscans). The sculpture is placed at the end of a stone-paved road, and the figure holds out a hand to touch the mirror placed against the wall of the room, as though he wished to penetrate the material that reflects him. « The Etruscan is a figure from the past that represents humankinds specific capacity to make sculptures of molten bronze and to prod