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Artists Michelangelo Pistoletto

Michelangelo Pistoletto

Italian Sculptor, Painter, Conceptual, and Performance Artist

Movement: Arte Povera

Born: June 25, 1933 - Biella, Italy

Quotes

"Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums - they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level, from that of the 'masses' to that of 'command.'"
Michelangelo Pistoletto
"Art is the primary expression of human creativity, thus the constant reference for every structural, technical, economic, and behavioral activity of society."
Michelangelo Pistoletto
"Art must go beyond the limitation of the object, of the so-called artistic product (while considering it to be of fundamental importance), in order to be active in every situation and place of planetary life."
Michelangelo Pistoletto
"Povera does not mean without money in your pocket. It means the essential energy of art."
Michelangelo Pistoletto
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"At the crossroads between abstraction and representation, where I think every young painter today has passed or remained, I chose the representation of humans, because I feel it best suited to realizing my need to express particular feelings and situations of the human condition, what for me is the most vital and burning issue of all time."

Synopsis

Though well-trained and with a facility for classical painting techniques, early in his career Pistoletto developed a stronger interest in the conceptual aspects of art objects. This included his use of humble materials such as tissue paper and mirrors, which helped lay foundations for the Arte Povera movement. Influenced by the social implications of more experimental tendencies in theatrical performance of his time, Pistoletto promoted a greater role for art in society and politics through his later projects that attempted to re-fashion the human world while involving many creative collaborators and crossing disciplinary lines, including mixing elements of music, theater, and installation, along with other visual art elements. He also designed works so that each would appear to be created by a different artist, defying notions of "branding" a signature style. Both playful (in his unconventional means) and serious (in his high-minded goals of changing the status quo), Pistoletto is a rare figure in arts practice for his commitment to do things differently, both in the art world and the world at large.

Key Ideas

Helping both set the goals and provide some idiosyncratic means for the Arte Povera movement's attempt to dissolve the borders between art and life, Pistoletto rejected conventional art world practices with his constant shifting of the type of work he created, and by his insistence on avoiding the creation of objects only for visual admiration.
Pistoletto's introduction of unusual materials as components in his sculptures, installations and paintings is meant to excite active participation by viewers not only with art but with one another and the world around them by bringing art into life, and life into art. He accomplished this whether through incorporating a viewer's own shifting image into a painting, or by engaging their own ideas, or physical or social interactions to become part of the works of art. He didn't simply create such works to be "finished" once and for all, but rather launched them into the world to live their own complex, unfolding lives with the help of their audiences and viewers.
Both the content of the art experiences he produced as well as the locations he produced them in - insisting on occurring outside traditional gallery and theater spaces, and with the engagement of non-artists from all walks of life - have sought a more significant role for art in the real world through projects that have attempted to transform economics and politics as well as the environment.

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Most Important Art

Tre ragazze alla balconata (Three Girls on a Balcony) (1962-1964)
Tre ragazze alla balconata (Three Girls on a Balcony) is one of a series of paintings on reflective materials that artist Michelangelo Pistoletto began working with starting in 1961. In this work's foreground, three women look out over a balcony rail into a gallery while reproductions of paintings resembling those of artists Ellsworth Kelly and Andy Warhol have been placed in the background. The mirror paintings, which form the foundation of Pistoletto's body of work, were an important example of work created as part of the short-lived Italian art movement known as Arte Povera. To create their work, artists associated with this movement used commonplace materials, such as clothing, rocks, and, in the case of Pistoletto, oil and pencil on tissue paper.

In this series, Pistoletto placed cut-outs of drawings on this paper onto the reflective surface of a mirror to allow for a secondary layer of engagement for viewers, who, beyond passively viewing the work, instead become part of the work, as his or her image - and the space from which they are viewing - is reflected back. When exhibited, Pistoletto's mirror paintings are often displayed at a height lower than standard museum levels - this viewpoint actually gives casual viewers the opportunity for both seeing themselves as part of the work of art and shift their , showcasing the works in the context of the surrounding environment.
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Biography

Childhood

Michelangelo Pistoletto was born into an artistic family. Before his parents' marriage, his mother Livia Fila, was a pupil of his father, artist Ettore Olivero Pistoletto. A year after Pistoletto was born his father moved the family to Turin and opened an art restoration workshop. As a child, Pistoletto's father taught him how to draw, and at age fourteen he began working in his father's workshop. Pistoletto learned about art history through studying the important old master paintings that his father helped to restore. Pistoletto described how, despite his father's wishes that he too become a painter, from a young age he had no interest in painting only the landscapes and still-lifes he might see, but looked to question the nature of both reality and representation. He did this while re-activating viewers experiences with art objects in order, as he later stated about his work, "to give a part of myself to those who wish to give a part of themselves." That is, he sought to make a more dynamic, shared exchange between artists and audience.

Early Training

Michelangelo Pistoletto Biography

With an affinity for drawing, Pistoletto began his formal training at age eighteen when his mother enrolled him in Armando Testa's prestigious advertising school. After working at Testa's commercial firm for a year, Pistoletto started and ran his own business for several years while continuing to help his father restore paintings.

The advertising world exposed Pistoletto to art that was more contemporary to his own time. Motivated by his realization that there were other types of painting than that produced by the old masters, Pistoletto began creating works of self-portraiture. He exhibited his first self-portrait in 1955, and his first solo exhibition was held in 1960 at the Galleria Galaten in Turin. In 1957, Pistoletto and a group of young artists published the journal Presenze in which two of his self-portraits were reproduced. Another contributing author to the journal was Marzia Calleri, whom Pistoletto had married in 1955. The couple's daughter, Cristina, was born in 1960.

Mature Period

Michelangelo Pistoletto Photo

In 1961, Pistoletto's fortuitous discovery of his reflection in the layer of transparent varnish he added to a self-portrait provided the spark that led him to create paintings on mirrored surfaces. Launching him onto the contemporary art scene, the mirror paintings he began creating in 1962 were his first key series and formed the foundation of his oeuvre. Minus Objects, Pistoletto's later series of sculptures made in 1965 and 1966, unsettled the usual passive approach that viewers were offered in gallery settings by bringing them outside to engage viewers more randomly as well as other means for disrupting typical viewers' experience of art objects. These works became fundamental to the creation and understanding of the Arte Povera movement.

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Michelangelo Pistoletto Biography Continues

Early in his career, Pistoletto displayed an interest in performance art as well, influenced in part by early "happenings" and in 1967 he began to locate such actions outside of traditional exhibition spaces, encouraged no doubt by a trip to Turin by New York-based avant-garde Living Theater, whose principal directors stayed in Pistoletto's apartment during their visit. For instance, as part of his participation in the group exhibition Con-temp-l'azione (1967), he took the Newspaper Sphere (1966), one of the Minus Objects, for a 'walk' through city streets connecting the three galleries where the exhibition was being held, involving other artists and passers-by to produce a larger creative context. As Pistoletto developed his ideas about performance, they became more often collaborations among people of different artistic disciplines such as music, theater, and literature, in addition to the visual arts. This philosophy resulted in his forming The Zoo, a group which led collaborative performance pieces in various venues, including the streets of Italian villages, from 1968 to 1970.

In 1974, despite growing artistic success, Pistoletto withdrew from the art world. He took an exam to become a skiing instructor and spent time in the mountains of San Sicario. This "retreat" served as a time of reflection and planning for later stages of his shifting series of creative responses to the larger world. After deciding to return to making art, Pistoletto resumed his practice of creating works in a variety of materials and artistic styles, and performance also continued to be important to the artist. In 1978 and 1979 Pistoletto produced Creative Collaboration, a series of performances given across the United States and delivered in unconventional public locations among diverse audiences who did not typically experience contemporary art. A creative partnership that involved local artists as well as longtime collaborators, including the experimental jazz music compositions by Morton Feldman, (with whom Pistoletto had staged an adaptation of a play by Samuel Beckett), the piece continued the legacy inherited from Pistoletto's multi-generational artistic family when it was performed throughout the city of Atlanta and included his daughters Cristina, Armona, and Pietra. Among its many offerings were an outdoor staging of mannequins as a theater piece, and a performance by schoolchildren for the residents of a nursing home.

Late Period

Michelangelo Pistoletto Portrait

The desire to effect social change was a strong motivator for Pistoletto's artistic endeavors. In 1991 he was appointed Professor of Sculpture at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy, where during his nine year tenure he worked with his students to develop a program with the aim of breaking down traditional barriers across artistic disciplines, and hierarchies in the academic world by inviting students to actively collaborate on projects with their teachers, and even shape the curriculum. Project Art, begun in 1994, allowed Pistoletto to involve diverse artists in an attempt to make porous the borders between art and the rest of life while promoting change through manifestos, public meetings, displays, and exhibitions. His establishment of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto in a former mill in Biella in 1998, provided a home for the goals and work expressed through Project Art. While relying on art as a principal mode for collaboration in order to produce greater social harmony, this "citadel of art" is organized with a staff and offices to plan and implement programs in specific non-art fields such as economics, politics, ecology, and communication. An emblematic sculptural-functional piece produced by Cittadellarte is a mirror-topped conference table shaped like the Mediterranean Sea entitled Love Difference (2002). It is meant to promote tolerance of ethnic diversity and varying forms of government in that troubled part of the world.

In recent years, the environment has become an increasingly important theme in Pistoletto's work, which led to the creation of his Third Paradise series, which has had many different iterations using different media over more than a decade. Introduced in 2003 as a manifesto, the underlying idea of this project is to overcome the existing global conflict between nature and the artificial world created by man - part of the utopian thread that has run through much of the artist's work meant to stimulate awareness of the world we share. Versions of the piece have focused on recycling and environmental sustainability, including in architecture, and bioethical responsibility in the textile and fashion industry, and have included workshops, meetings and public demonstrations as well as a land art project in 2010 involving the planting of 160 olive trees in the shape of an infinity sign (the symbol for the continuing project).


Legacy

The legacy of Michelangelo Pistoletto's career lies both in his artistic output as well as his use of some of that art to influence shifts in society. Restless and inventive - his rich body of work has long pushed the boundaries of what is or could be considered art - he has changed the perception of what art can be for audiences, as well as inspired countless generations of artists to follow his lead in disrupting expectations of not only what but where and by whom art can be produced, as well as the greater effects it can have in everyday life and the larger world.

Though his name is associated with the Arte Povera movement, the work of his early years has moved beyond a challenge to established institutions and traditional notions of art exhibited in the commercial gallery world. Pistoletto's strong desire to cause social change in the larger world is also at the heart of his work as an artist. Not simply choosing to produce works that make a statement, he has developed comprehensive ways of thinking expressed through artworks, manifestos, performances, residencies, awards, and programs in an ongoing attempt to help make the world a different and better place. More than most conceptually based performance artists of the 1960s and 70s, Pistoletto's legacy has provided an example for creative individuals who have followed in greater attempts to prompt "audiences" to become collaborators in creative acts. Such newer forms of participatory art that mean to engage with and transform communities through "social practice" have also been referred to under the name "relational aesthetics." While at times playful to the point of seeming whimsical, such work is also meant to effect profound changes in how human beings relate to one another.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Michelangelo Pistoletto
Interactive chart with Michelangelo Pistoletto's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Francis Bacon
Joseph Beuys
Marcel Duchamp
Jean Fautrier
Allan Kaprow

Friends

Movements

Conceptual Art
Dada
Happenings
Surrealism
Performance Art
Michelangelo Pistoletto
Michelangelo Pistoletto
Years Worked: 1962 - present

Artists

Martin Kippenberger
Tino Sehgal

Friends

Morton Feldman
Franz West

Movements

Arte Povera
Conceptual Art
Performance Art
Relational Aesthetics



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Useful Resources on Michelangelo Pistoletto

Videos
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Articles
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
written by artist
Facing Pistoletto

By Andrea Bellini and Michelangelo Pistoletto

Michelangelo Pistoletto

By Bruno Cora and Michelangelo Pistoletto

Michelangelo Pistoletto: Azioni Materiali

By Michelangelo Pistoletto and Silvia Eiblmayr

Michelangelo Pistoletto: The Third Paradise

By Michelangelo Pistoletto

More Interesting Books about Michelangelo Pistoletto
Michelangelo Pistoletto

Very Magazine
November 2007

Reflections on the Self and the Wider World

The New York Times
December 16, 2010

Michelangelo Pistoletto, The Third Paradise

art-agenda.com
December 21, 2012

The Third Paradise: a sign of peace, union and responsibility

Fondazione Zegna
November 11, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Michelangelo Pistoletto
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Arte Povera
Arte Povera
Arte Povera
Arte Povera - "poor art" or "impoverished art" - was the most influential European avant-garde of the 1960s. It numbered around a dozen Italian artists who often used commonplace materials that evoked a pre-industrial age - earth, rocks, clothing, paper and rope. The artists rejected abstract painting, and the references to modernity and technology in American Minimalism, and instead made sculpture which pointed to the past, and to experiences of locality.
TheArtStory: Arte Povera
Happenings
Happenings
Happenings
The term "happening" was coined by artist Allan Kaprow in 1957 to decribe a series of multi-media artworks on display in a single locale. In general, a happening is an art event, often staged or pre-scripted, that requires active participation from an audience to come to full fruition. This relatively new form of artistic media could be called participatory.
TheArtStory: Happenings
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon was an Irish-born, English painter and one of the twentieth century's most celebrated and controversial existentialist artists. Bacon favored dark subject matter, often painting slightly abstracted, biomorphic figures, with bodies contorted or in the throes of madness. Painterly themes of Bacon's include the crucifixion, isolation and the mind's fragility. Bacon was also one of the few English artists of any prominence in modern and contemporary circles during the better part of the twentieth century.
TheArtStory: Francis Bacon
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys was a German multi- and mixed-media artist best known for incorporating ideas of humanism, social philosophy and politics into his art. Beuys practiced everything from installation and performance art to traditional painting and "social sculpture." He was continually motivated by the belief of universal human creativity.
TheArtStory: Joseph Beuys
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
TheArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Jean Fautrier
Jean Fautrier
Jean Fautrier
Jean Fautrier, born in 1898, was a French painter and sculptor. He was one of the most important practitioners of Tachisme, the European equivalent to Abstract Expressionism.
Jean Fautrier
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow was an American painter, collagist, assemblagist and performance artist. Kaprow was best known for trailblazing the artistic concept "happenings," which were experiential artistic events rather than single works of art.
TheArtStory: Allan Kaprow
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory: Conceptual Art
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
TheArtStory: Dada
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
TheArtStory: Surrealism
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
TheArtStory: Performance Art
Martin Kippenberger
Martin Kippenberger
Martin Kippenberger
Martin Kippenberger was a German artist born in 1953. During the last 10 years of his life, he created a series of drawings on hotel stationery - the 'hotel drawings.' Three of his pieces were used as cover art for the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers.
Martin Kippenberger
Tino Sehgal
Tino Sehgal
Tino Sehgal
Tino Sehgal is a British-German artist based in Berlin. His works, which he calls "constructed situations," involve one or more people carrying out instructions conceived by the artist. On the sale of his work, the artist stipulates that there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue and no pictures. This means that his work is not documented in any way.
Tino Sehgal
Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman was an American composer. In the twentieth century, his work helped pioneer movements such as Aleatoric and Indeterminate Music, forms of composition that require a high degree of improvisation and free form. Feldman's contributions to modern composition have also been dubbed "chance" music.
Morton Feldman
Franz West
Franz West
Franz West
Franz West was an Austrian artist known for his collages and sculptures. West transformed ordinary materials as well as everyday objects, such as: bottles, machine parts, and furniture, into collages and sculptures. He also created objects out of plaster called 'adaptives', inspired by masks for the commedia dell'arte, meant to be worn by the viewer.
Franz West
Relational Aesthetics
Relational Aesthetics
Relational Aesthetics
Relational Aesthetics is a term created by curator Nicolas Bourriaud in the 1990s to describe the tendency he noticed in fine art practice to make art based on, or inspired by, human relations and their social context.
Relational Aesthetics
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