Painter, sculptor, and performance artist Michelangelo Pistoletto was born on June 25, 1933, in Biella.

By Jean Marie Carey

Painter, sculptor, and performance artist Michelangelo Pistoletto was born on June 25, 1933, in Biella. He grew up and spent much of his career in Turin, working from 1947 to 1961 as a restorer and portrait painter. In 1962 Pistoletto produced the first of what came to be known as the “mirror paintings,” life-size photorealistic images transferred to polished steel. Association with Arte Povera began in 1965 with the “Minus Objects,” furniture-sculpture hybrids referencing Pop, Minimalism, and the ready-made.

In 1968, Pistoletto began a series of ad-hoc street theater performances around Italy as part of Lo Zoo troupe, using some of his best-known works, including Venere degli stracci (Venus of the Rags)(1967), as props.

Pistoletto’s later career shifted to more direct affirmation of social concerns. He established Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto – a center for the study and promotion of creative activity hosting visiting artists, writers, and performers – in Biella in 1998 and funded scholarships, studio space, and even allotments of food for emerging artists.

Having originally used mirrors in his work to symbolize both absence and the uncertainty of identity, in a performance at the Venice Biennale in 2009, the artist destroyed 20 of 22 mirrors ringing a large exhibition space. Thus in Twenty-Two Less Two, the fragments of the broken mirrors represented multiplicity and universality, retaining the functional abilities of the whole.

Reference: Renato Barilli. “Pistoletto, Michelangelo.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. 


Twenty-two Less Two. Performance and installation, 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009. Mirrors and wood, 300 by 200 centimetres each. Photo: J.M. Carey.

Venere degli stracci (Venus of the Rags), 1967.White Greek marble, rags, 167 by 60 by 50 centimetres. Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto Biella. Photo: P. Pellion.

Le orecchie di Jasper Johns (The Ears of Jasper Johns), 1966. Photography on paper, 250 by 100 centimetres. Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella. Photo: P. Pellion. 

Persona di schiena (Person Seen from the Back), 1962. Painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel, 212 by 121 centimetres. Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella. Photo: P. Pellion.

Pietra miliare (Milestone), 1967. Mica, 80 by 40 centimetres. Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella. Photo: P. Mussat Sartor.

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