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View of “Michelangelo Pistoletto: From One to Many, 1956–1974,” 2010, Philadelphia Museum of Art. From left: Biennale 66, 1966; No all’aumento del tram (No to the Raise of the Tram Fare), 1965.

Michelangelo Pistoletto

View of “Michelangelo Pistoletto: From One to Many, 1956–1974,” 2010, Philadelphia Museum of Art. From left: Biennale 66, 1966; No all’aumento del tram (No to the Raise of the Tram Fare), 1965.

IN 1962, the young Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto began his “Quadri specchianti,” or “Mirror Paintings,” affixing silhouettes of friends, colleagues, and mundane objects onto highly polished stainless steel. These were works structurally devised to be completed by viewers, in accordance with Umberto Eco’s contemporaneous definition of the “open work.” Virtually everything about them confounds pictorial and viewing space: the diminutive nature of the tissue-paper cutouts (which need to be smaller than life-size to be of more or less the same proportions as us, as we stand back from them); the disturbance introduced by the slight undulation and opacity of the steel surfaces; the bleached-out colors of the silhouettes; the withdrawn body language of the figures, whose slouched shoulders and passive demeanor remind one of the politically disaffected Italian intellectuals in

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