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The Art Story Homepage Artists Michelangelo Pistoletto Art Works

Michelangelo Pistoletto Artworks

Italian Sculptor, Painter, Conceptual, and Performance Artist

Michelangelo Pistoletto Photo
Movements and Styles: Arte Povera, Conceptual Art

Born: June 25, 1933 - Biella, Italy

Artworks by Michelangelo Pistoletto

The below artworks are the most important by Michelangelo Pistoletto - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

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.

Quadro da pranzo (Oggetti in meno) (Lunch painting [Minus Objects]) (1965)

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.

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Venus of the Rags (1974)

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.

Bed (1976)

As reflected in the title, Bed resembles the familiar furniture item and is comprised of a thin mattress resting on a six-legged metal frame. Unlike the functional object however, this mattress and frame are crafted in the shape of a bow: narrow in the center and wide at the head and foot of the bed. This work is part of the Segno Arte series, which includes sculptures of everyday objects such as bookcases and doormats that Michelangelo Pistoletto created in the late 1970s and later returned to in the late 1990s. The origin of the furniture works comes from a text written by the artist in 1976, Libretto Giallo (Little Yellow Book), as one of a hundred exhibitions conceived in the period of a month. Translated, Segno Arte means "sign for art." Pistoletto wanted to develop a "sign" or shape for his art that could apply to a various common objects made in a variety of different materials. His bow-shaped sign was inspired by a geometric representation of the human body with arms raised and open and legs spread wide. Pistoletto also encouraged others to invent their own signs, thereby empowering them to impose, as he had done, their individual identities onto the world's objects. The act of taking an everyday object and transforming it into a "sign for art" allowed him to move objects from conventional functionality into the realm of high art.

Year One (1981)

A staple of Michelangelo Pistoletto's work is performance. While for some artists this is a solitary exercise, for Pistoletto it is most often a collaborative act involving individuals from diverse artistic disciplines. Year One was a staged performance conceived by Pistoletto that debuted at the Teatro Quirino in Rome on March 17, 1981 and included interpretations from actors comprised of people from the Italian city of Corniglia. The actors donned architectural structures on their heads while they narrated the progress of history from the epic battle between Cain and Abel to man's first moon flight. The weight of the physical structures worn by the actors was meant to echo how humankind has become oppressed by civilization's actions throughout history. The piece has been revised and performed many times allowing for later world events to be added to the narrative. A 1994 Munich performance, with a vocal composition by Pistoletto's daughter, Cristina, referenced events from Berlin in 1989. Most recently in 2009 the piece was performed in Turin and was enhanced by music performed by actors including Pistoletto's granddaughter, Elettra (continuing the family tradition of the arts).

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The Third Paradise in the woodland of Francesco di Assisi (2010)

In 2010, Michelangelo Pistoletto debuted one of his most ambitious projects, The Third Paradise in the woodland of Francesco di Assisi, a work of land art comprised of 121 olive trees planted in the shape of the symbol for his ongoing art project Third Paradise. Believing humanity has already lived through two paradises - the first in which humans were fully integrated with nature and the second in which humans used nature to create their own artificial world - Pistoletto's project calls for a third paradise to begin where humans unite once again to live in balance with nature. The work's symbol, loosely based on the mathematical infinity sign, includes two circles signifying nature and artifice or the artificial world created by man, and a conjoining middle circle intended to represent the potential for rebirth of a new humanity. Throughout the last decade Pistoletto has created works depicting the symbol of Third Paradise in a variety of materials such as sand, enamel, aluminum, and rags; but this massive work of land art provides a permanent home for the symbol. Its home in the St. Francis Woods of Assisi, Italy is important to the artist as it evokes the memory of St. Francis and his message of peace while the work also demonstrates Pistoletto's skill at using art as an agent to increase consciousness and effect change by altering the environment in a symbolic and large-scale physical way so that humans and the natural world can be seen as better able to co-exist.

Related Artists and Major Works

Floor Tautology (1967)

Movement: Arte Povera (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Luciano Fabro

This piece consists of an area of polished floor, marked off and covered with newspapers to dry, which also protect the cleaned floor from further marks or scuffs. This placement questions notions of value through the attention paid to a usually overlooked aspect of a room (the floor and the marks made upon it), and it asks its viewers to reevaluate the processes and time that go into keeping a floor clean. It also implicitly asks that the audience invest in keeping it clean by not disturbing the newspapers.

Here the piece's significance rests in its attempt to keep the floor clean and by inviting consideration of who usually takes responsibility for this activity. The elevation of a duty associated with housework, which is often socially coded as women's work, also became a theme in Fabro's later pieces that utilized bed sheets and other fabrics. Fabro's work here could even be seen as a precursor to later Feminist artists such as Judy Chicago, who enacted a similar foregrounding of unexamined (and predominantly female) work. The piece was first shown in Germano Celant's original survey of Arte Povera, where Fabro's celebration of an ordinary task was instrumental in Celant's attempt to recalibrate the concept of fine art.

Fabro was already a well-known artist by the time he was incorporated into the Arte Povera group. His work had previously been associated with the slightly earlier practices of Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana, two important precursors to the movement and to whom Fabro provided a concrete historical link.

Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, Financial Section (1970-71)

Movement: Conceptual Art (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Marcel Broodthaers (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

In 1968 Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers opened his Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles as an impermanent conceptual museum that would appear as installations in "sections" at various times and locations between 1968 and 1971. In 1970-71, stressing the economic functioning of cultural institutions, Broodthaers declared the Museum's bankruptcy; he made a corresponding Financial Section through which he tried to raise funds with the sale of specially cast gold bars, or ingot. Stamped with an eagle (the symbol for power and victory, and one he had explored in a previous incarnation of his Museum), Broodthaers set the price of each gleaming bar at double the going market value of gold - thus shifting it from valuation in one market (commodities) to another (art). The bars were valued quite highly as art, which is as much an object as an investment. The gold bar's increased value demonstrated that value of gold and commodities is speculative and market-driven. As Duchamp had indicated before with his Readymades, art has no specific essence or quality other than it being chosen or nominated by an artist, and then also accepted as art by the artistic establishment, which includes the art market. Broodthaers makes this quite clear by "transforming" the gold into art by virtue of the context of his fictional museum. Through the purchase of the Broodthaers ingot, the buyer would help seal the deal that it was a valid work of art and not just gold. The artist/curator/museum director (Broodthaers) would authorize the artwork (the ingot) with a letter of authenticity issued to the buyer. Due largely to the Museum series, Broodthaers is known as an artist involved in "institutional critique," yet it is important to note that this critique is not simply a negation or dismissal of the art world. Rather, it takes the form of a consistent illumination, often through subtle parody, of the interdependency of the artist, the work of art, and the institutions that exhibit and publicize them.

Painting (1946)

Artist: Francis Bacon (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

The layered images of this enigmatic painting blend into each other, giving it a dreamlike (or nightmarish) quality. From the top, the outstretched wings of a bird skeleton seem to be perched upon a hanging carcass, the latter motif influenced, like Bacon's Crucifixion from 1933, by Rembrandt. In the foreground, a well-dressed man under an umbrella sits in a circular enclosure which might be decorated with more bones and another carcass. The strange, collage-like composition of this work reveals Bacon's method. "The one like a butcher's shop, it came to me as an accident," he once said of the picture. "I was attempting to make a bird alighting on a field. And it may have been bound up in some way with the three forms that had gone before, but suddenly the lines that I'd drawn suggested something totally different, and out of this suggestion rose the picture. I had no intention to do this picture; I never thought of it in that way. It was like one continuous accident mounting on top of another."


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