The Estate of Dr. Martyna Miskinis, Orchard Lake
Wright, New York, The Dr. Martyna Miskinis Collection, 23 September 2014, Lot 103
Acquired from the above by the present owner
One of the leading contemporary artists of our time, Michelangelo Pistoletto was a key figure in the development of conceptual art in Italy and Arte Povera in particular. Born in Biella, Italy, in 1933, he began as a painter in the mid-1950s, and in the 1960s embarked upon his most important and instantly recognisable series, the Quadri Specchiati or Mirror Paintings. In a radical and eloquent use of the reflective surface, these works brake down the traditional notions of figurative art and interweave the exalted and immortal dimension of the artwork with the changeable and transitory conditions of existence. Pistoletto has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2003. His prolific work was recently heralded in a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Musuem of Art in 2010, at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2011 and the Blenheim Palace from September to December 2016.
Beguiling, restrained and yet unerringly radical, Tenda blu is an enchanting exploration of the relation between the viewer, reflectivity, artistic representation, and that specific part of spacetime that Michelangelo Pistoletto's Mirror Paintings spectacularly occupy. Flowing cobalt folds of elegant painted tissue paper hang delicately over a square of dazzlingly reflective, polished stainless steel, more than half of which is hidden by the titular blue curtain. Via the mediation of bilateral inversion, the viewer sees themselves in the liminal strip of reflective steel that comprises the work’s background. Part of the pioneering and career-defining series of Mirror Paintings, Tenda blu belongs to a vast array of experiments by Pistoletto – begun in the early 1960s – that culminated in the coexistence of an instantaneous, mirror image with a doubly-inverted and subsequently corrected photographic figure. Using by turns aluminium sheets, mirror-finished steel, polished stainless steel, photography and photographic gelatine, every work in this series transforms the viewer’s self-directed gaze into an essential part of the overall aesthetic product: interrogating the complex and symbiotic nexus between physical, psychosocial, virtual and subjective space.
As the viewer self-regards, they become aware of the continual slippage of so-called ‘present experience’: that each supposedly present moment is either unrecognised, or consigned to the immediate past by recognition. The curtain recalls both the ‘moving torch’ of the present moment – briefly illuminating a tiny subset of spacetime points as it traces a path along a continuum – and the unknown, unfathomable past and future. And yet, in making the viewer’s transient experience necessary for the completion of the artwork, Pistoletto builds upon a rich art historical tradition canonised, not by conceptual artists of the 1960s, but by Baroque masters such as Diego Velázquez and his masterpiece, Las Meninas (1656). In this painting, the artist depicts himself behind an easel accompanied by a number of others, all of whom look at an absent King and Queen whose unseen position is occupied by us, the viewer. The regal status conferred to the viewer is metaphoric of their power in the construction of the artwork: without our voluntary investment in the fiction of artistic representation, there is no finished article; just its preconditions. Tenda blu and the Mirror Paintings can plausibly be seen as at once embodying, and thereby demonstrating, these compelling theoretical propositions.
The return announced by the Mirror Paintings to the contextualised present is a thrilling response to the exaggerated, de-politicising emphasis on isolated subjectivities perpetuated by Abstract Expressionism. Arte Povera re-conferred power to the viewer, and it is no coincidence that works like Tenda blu immediately preceded the seismic political engagement of the late 1960s in Italy and France. In reminding us of our ability to sculpt the present moment into an artwork, the mutability of the power structures determining the limits of our experience is conjured in negative space. Capturing this future orientation, Pistoletto writes: “the mirror isn’t a wall, it’s always in the future, all that is to happen tomorrow is already in it” (Michelangelo Pistoletto cited in: Maiten Bouisset, ‘Effets de Miroir, Art Press, No. 189, March 1994, p. 35).
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