Michelangelo Pistoletto

Michelangelo Pistoletto seems to have conceived his two simultaneously presented shows in France as complementary. At Marseilles the Italian artist chose to organize the exhibition around a group of recent paintings and sculptures that had been shown last year in Turin, along with a selection of his earlier works. Installed in the most spacious of the new halls at the Musée Cantini, the recent works, which according to Pistoletto come from an “art of desolation,” clearly aim to go beyond the classical opposition of painting and sculpture through the occupation of space by color. The sculptures consist of extremely simple geometric forms, realized in materials that the artist refers to as “anonymous” and painted as if they were paintings. The colors, in a somber range dominated by gray or greenish bronze sometimes pierced by light or reddish striations, are applied informally. Accentuated by a shrewd arrangement of the diverse pieces, a play of mirrors was set up among the flat surfaces and the volumes, as if paintings and sculptures were but mutual reflections. After his first reflective paintings of 1962, Pistoletto is certainly familiar with mirror effects. This and other aspects of his art over the last thirty years were seen in the small rooms of the museum, where a small group of works summarized the main stages of his career. An Autoritratto (Self-portrait, 1960) is from a series of paintings from 1958 to ’62 that led Pistoletto to his mirror paintings, two examples of which were presented here: Uomo di schiena (Man seen from the back, 1962) and La sacra conversazione (Sacred conversation, 1973). Although one missed the Oggetti in meno (Minus objects, 1965–66), they were almost compensated for by the presence of one of several versions of Pistoletto’s masterpiece Venere degli stracci (Venus of the rags, 1967–78), a work initially created during the historic period of the beginnings of arte povera.

At the “Magasin” (store)—the more informal name for the Centre National d’Art Contemporain inaugurated last spring in Grenoble—Pistoletto chose to show a temporary, time-oriented installation that exploited the unusual qualities of that space. The “Magasin” is in fact a former factory typical of the 19th-century glass-and-iron structures erected by Gustave Eiffel’s workshop. In order to adapt it for its new use, a sequence of medium-size rooms was constructed on the left side of the building so that the right side, remaining open, constituted a long space that has been nicknamed “the street.” Pistoletto, like Daniel Buren and Sol LeWitt—who created installations here last year—is one of those rare artists capable of taking full advantage of such a space. His installation, entitled Le Temps du miroir (The time of the mirror, 1986), evolved in two parts. In part 1, called Le Miroir, at the end of this “street” he installed a gigantic mirror, which funneled space into a vanishing point and tumed it inside out like a glove, while the white walls and columns were left bare. Pistoletto covered the walls with paper, on which he proceeded during the next month to make gigantic charcoal drawings that gave the walls a rough, textured look; this was part 2, called Le Volume (The space). The entire space became a monumental drawing vibrating in its own reflection.

Pistoletto continues to be (unjustly) one of the least known of the Italian artists of arte povera in France. In both of these exhibitions he demonstrated his ability to produce spectacular and at the same time subtle effects, through a great variety of means capable of adapting to extremely different spaces, and the rigor of his thought.

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.