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Important Art by Michelangelo Pistoletto
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.
Quandro da pranzo (Lunch Painting) consists of a wooden frame containing simple geometric renderings of two life-size wooden chairs and a table, which, when hung, allows the gallery wall to be incorporated into the painting. Much about the work, including the furniture and even the title referencing a meal, begs for the viewer to use the object. And yet that capacity for use is withheld in the way in which the piece is presented - which is neither flat like a painted representation of a table and chairs, nor as fully three dimensional and free-standing as a functional version of those furniture items might be. In this way, Pistoletto transformed a utilitarian object into art. This work is part of the Minus Objects series created by the artist between 1965 and 1966 that consists of a variety of non-representational, self-contained objects that bear little resemblance to the artist's other work. Made early in Pistoletto's career, the artist considered these works to be an act of liberation and served as a kind of escape from the increasing demand for his mirror paintings. When first exhibited together in 1966 as an exhibition in the artist's Turin studio, the Minus Objects were not well received, in part because those in the commercial gallery world did not know how to represent or market them. Challenging notions of what is or could be art, this work and the Minus Objects are considered fundamental to the Arte Povera movement and would become one of Pistoletto's most important bodies of work.
Venus of the Rags, Pistoletto's iconic large-scale sculpture, consists of a classically rendered figure of the goddess Venus staring into a colorful mound of rags and discarded clothing. The inherent tension that exists between the two strikingly different objects leads the viewer to contemplate a myriad of contradictions raised by the work such as classical versus contemporary, use of monochrome versus color, hard and soft, precious and common, highbrow and the everyday. As part of its efforts to better connect art and life, the Arte Povera movement attempted to critique established cultural institutions and undermine the prevailing commercialization of art by putting into the foreground unusual combinations of materials for making artwork.
In this work, the traditionally rendered marble Venus pays homage to the rich cultural history of ancient Roman culture. The rags, in contrast, are commonplace, many of them having been used by the artist himself while working in his studio. The placement of Venus so close to the pile of rags that her face can no longer be seen not only allows for the traditional to become eclipsed by ordinary materials, but shows the full spectrum of color and greater dimensions of the rag mound. The way the goddess is turned to attend to the rags - the sort of tools used to produce her statue - credit the labor of that creativity as essential and even more important than the statue itself.