Michelangelo Pistoletto

This exhibition, which Michelangelo Pistoletto created specifically for the space of this gallery, pursued the theme of “Poetica dura” (Hard poetics) that he began exploring in a show of that name at the beginning of 1985. “Art of squalor, parasitical art of mortification. Surfaces of desolation, obtuse surfaces. A repulsive art that doesn’t represent anything. Fountains of light gray cast metal, idiot depths of a crushed, smeared art, tiring as childbirth,” the artist wrote then, in a vibrant declaration of poetics that accompanied the show. Pistoletto’s recent installation here, which he called “Long Playing,” was more fully in tune with those poetics. There were a dozen works in a variety of media, and they resonated with each other and with the space. The gallery is long and narrow like a church nave, with a pale gray Carrara marble floor and white walls that emphasize a cold, rational quality, in sharp contrast to the Baroque accents of the building, the street, and the city itself.

There was something aggressive and almost frightening about the way the large sculptures and painted canvases loomed in the space. Most of them were crowded into the first half of the room, arranged close to or propped against the walls. The effect was that of a claustrophobic architecture of inflated proportions, generating the same anxiety as a plan by Borromini: they occupied the room like giants desperate for more space, overwhelming it with their monumentality to the point of deforming it.

Here, Pistoletto’s hard poetics were transformed into a synthesis of related elements, a chain of conceptual fragments, each link in the chain connected to his overall oeuvre. In this way he gave new symbolic force to some of his characteristic motifs: the mirror, the figure of Venus, rags, sculptures made of “anonymous material.” The large mirror shard leaning against the wall just to the left of the entrance contained a fragmentary reflection of the works lined up in front of it, a metaphor of their already fragmented state. What we saw was an explosion of splintered images—traces of architecture, canvases, pedestals, and sculptures that, in their fragmentariness, implied a lost monumentality. The explosion has left them broken and lacerated. It has overturned Venus, pushing it deeper into its pile of rags; it has soiled the canvases with mud; it has uprooted a “column” (actually a huge roll of splotchily painted canvas) from its functional position and moved it out into the open, where it negated the space instead of defining and supporting it.

This sense of an explosion was implicit in the uneven distribution of these pieces around the gallery, in a spiral motion that began with the mirror and the cluster of works near the Venus and then circled back to the mirror. It proceeded in fits and starts, full of pauses, breaking up time as in the 19th-century photographic motion studies of Etienne Jules Marey. “Even more than sculpture or painting, time is my true dimension,” Pistoletto once declared. Indeed, his mirror works from the 1960s were evocations of two facets of time—the static and eternal state of the painted figure and the ephemeral one of the mirror image.

But here the mirror is no longer turned toward the world. It reflects the works, sucking them up into another time, into another space, where the eye of the observer seems completely excluded. This is why, as Pistoletto himself has written, his “hard poetics” correspond to another dimension: “a slow motion like the catastrophic one of the universe.”

Alessandra Mammi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.