Michelangelo Pistoletto, 1967, quoted in Richard Flood and Frances Morris (eds.), Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 2001, p. 306.

Today is the birthday of Michelangelo Pistoletto, a sculptor and painter born on 23 June 1933 in Biella (Piedmont). From 1947 to 1958 Pistoletto studied restoration in his father’s workshop. He produced his first artworks in the late 1950s, concentrating on painted portraits in the style of Francis Bacon. Pistoletto deeply admired Bacon’s work, yet his relationship to him was also competitive. In 1962 the Italian artist realised that he would never be able to rival Bacon’s painting skills. Therefore, Pisoletto switched to newer and more experimental techniques such as photography. A signature process found in his works is the printing of life-size portraits on reflective metal surfaces. This creates a tension between the still photographic portrait and the moving spectator whose face is reflected and distorted by the printed metal.

From 1967 onwards performance and sculpture became the core of this artist’s work. An example is Venus of the Rags (1967), where the artist appropriated an academic statue of Venus as a ‘ready-made’ and juxtaposed it to a pile of multicolored rags. The strong contrast between the statue and the rags emphasizes the sensory difference between cold, hard marble and warm, colorful textiles. Thus, the artwork evokes the conflict between high and low culture, the rich and the poor, the ‘humanist’ West influenced by Classical culture and the Global South. The use of discarded materials such as rags also signals Pistoletto’s participation to the Italian art movement Arte Povera, interested in the exploration of everyday materials and non-traditional processes.

Reference: Renato Barilli. “Pistoletto, Michelangelo.” Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T067944.

Standing Man (mirror painting), 1982 (first version 1962), silkscreen on steel, 2500 x 1250 x 25 mm, Tate Modern, London, inv. no. T12186. Source: © Michaelangelo Pistoletto, Tate Modern Website.

Venus of the Rags, 1974 (first version 1967), marble and textiles, 2120 x 3400 x 1100 mm, Tate Modern, London, inv. no. T12200. Source: © Michaelangelo Pistoletto, Tate Modern Website.

Doormats, 1997 (firs version 1976), coconut fiber and rubber, 610 x 1900 x 990 mm, Tate Modern, London, inv. no. T12188. Source: © Michaelangelo Pistoletto, Tate Modern Website.

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