I believe that Man’s first real figurative experience is the recognition of his own image in the mirror: the fiction which comes closest to reality. But it is not long before the reflection begins to send back the same unknowns, the same questions, the same problems, as reality itself: unknowns and questions which Man is driven to re-propose in the form of pictures.–Michelangelo Pistoletto, 1964
Michelangelo Pistoletto is a leading figure of the Arte Povera (literally, “poor art”) movement, a name applied by art critic Germano Celant to a group of postwar Italian artists who produced work using minimal formats and deliberately “humble” materials. Though they appear to be made from mirrors, Pistoletto’s works are actually made from highly polished stainless-steel panels, to which he applies painted tissue-paper cutouts (paint side down) in such a way as to suggest photographic reproduction. He wrote: “I am afraid that it is incorrect to define my works as ‘paintings on mirrors,’ for the mirror is an object. Everything would change in my pictures were they to be taken off their mirror backgrounds… . The world that surrounds me is really the inner world. Everything is within me just as everything within the figures I paint is an interior reality.”
Pistoletto’s use of imagery from popular culture likens his works to the paintings of American artists Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. He compared his work to Warhol’s, suggesting that whereas Warhol’s use of repetition demystified the original photograph, his own pieces reproduced the photographic material in depth. Pistoletto’s works also embody an element of performance by placing the viewer within the picture. His first exhibition in the United States was presented by the Walker in 1966.
Walker solo exhibition: Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, 1966