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Michelangelo Pistoletto (Italian, born 1933)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Italian sculptor and painter. He grew up in Turin and from 1947 to 1958 was apprenticed to his father as a restorer. In 1947 he also produced his first paintings. Until 1962 he concentrated on portraits, influenced above all by the work of Francis Bacon. He soon realized, however, that he could never rival Bacon with conventional painting techniques. In 1962 he began instead to create life-size photographic likenesses of people and objects that he transferred on to reflective metal surfaces, as in Marzia with Child (painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel, 2×1.2 m, 1962–4; New York, Sonnabend priv. col.), creating an evocative interplay between the static printed image and moving reflections of the spectator on the mirrored surface. These works shared with Pop art a tribute to the poetic nature of objects, but their emphasis on process and on unconventional materials aligned them also with Arte Povera.

In 1967 Pistoletto began to venture beyond the realm of still images into that of performance art, favouring simple actions such as dragging an enormous ball made of old newspapers through the streets; a number of these performances were collaborative works. While he continued to produce his characteristic pictures on flat surfaces, relying mainly on images screenprinted on to tissue (e.g. Woman at the Cemetery, 1974; Paris, Pompidou), he became increasingly interested in sculpture. Pistoletto’s approach to Arte Povera combined the ‘poor’ everyday element, taken from life, with cultured features derived from the repertory of museums, as in Venus of the Rags (1967; see Corà, pl. 72) in which an academic statue of the goddess, presented as a ready-made, provides a spectacular contrast to a mass of multicoloured rags. This was followed by further dialectic encounters between these two opposing life-forces in his work. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he presented a number of monumental but fragmentary carved and figurative sculptures in marble or polyurethane (e.g. Figure Looking Down the Well, 1983; priv. col., see 1984 exh. cat., p. 175) that marked a return to the canons of Michelangelo and Rodin, albeit in an intentionally barbaric, distorted and naive form.

Renato Barilli
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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