Michelangelo Pistoletto

Michelangelo Pistoletto’s most recent—and most extraordinary—work is entitled La Giuria (The Jury), 1962–2006. A large mirror with a photographic image silk-screened onto its surface, more than thirty feet in length and eight feet in height, the piece almost entirely covered the longest wall of the gallery. This large reflective surface, divided into eight sheets, neither rested against the wall nor touched the floor, unlike nearly all his earlier mirrors, which merge mimetically with the space their reflection duplicates. Approaching visitors were kept at a distance thanks to the large white pedestal on which the mirror was mounted, which literally kept them away from its surface and from the scene represented on it: seven men and two women seated in an arcing line, their backs to the viewer (the three figures at the left and one on the right seen in profile). Thus, gallery visitors standing before the work saw their reflections within the arc—we observed ourselves being observed by the nine sitters, judged, examined, monitored.

Perhaps the apparent continuity between his past mirrors’ reflected space and the actual space of the gallery accounts for why, in the ’60s, Pistoletto was sometimes pigeonholed as a Pop artist. But with The Jury, the artist no longer seeks an effect of continuity, however fictitious; on the contrary, the work instills a sense of detachment, indeed comes alive through the act of separation it performs. But at the same time, like his earlier mirror pieces it evokes an interaction that can be highly unsettling.

Pistoletto took the original photograph for The Jury at the thesis examination of Eva Kaia, a student at a Polish art academy. Rephotographed and configured in the format described above, the image becomes a magnified metaphor, related to the very idea of judgment, examination, and control, as the title has so many possible interpretations. The jury might be awarding a prize or sitting in judgment in a courtroom; its deliberations can lead to gratification or condemnation. This might even be a “people’s tribunal,” given that the jurors, dressed in civilian clothes, are seated on ordinary chairs. But those chairs are no different from the ones used in schools throughout the world and thus bring to mind the assessments teachers make to award a prize to the best student. We experience the very situation of judging and being judged as disturbingly ambiguous, and the imposing dimensions and unusual position of the mirror serve to accentuate the sense of subjection that it involves.

This disquieting openness to interpretation is what makes The Jury so powerful. It is astonishing how Pistoletto is able to return to his own familiar means of expression and yet make it function in a different way—as charged with meaning as anything he’s ever done: a true “reinvention of the medium,” to borrow Rosalind Krauss’s phrase.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.