Lot 15
  • 15

Michelangelo Pistoletto

600,000 - 1,000,000 GBP
938,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Michelangelo Pistoletto
  • Cordone
  • signed, titled, dated 1970 and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel


Graziella Lonardi Buontempo Collection, Rome (acquired directly from the artist)

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2000


Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Vitalità del Negativo nell'Arte Italiana 1960/70, 1970-71, n.p., illustrated

Rome, Parcheggio di Villa Borghese; Florence, Centro Di Edizioni, Contemporanea, 1973-74, p. 194, illustrated


Richard Peduzzi, Daniela Lancioni, Jacqueline Risset, et al., Incontri...dalla Collezione di Graziella Lonardi Buontempo, Rome 2003, p. 133, illustrated and p. 274 (text) 

Catalogue Note

Cordone is a masterly work which aptly demonstrates the central aspects of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings – his most celebrated and longest running series. Aesthetically elegant and subversive in tone, this piece blurs the boundaries between illusion and reality and engages the viewer in a characteristically compelling manner. Previously in the collection of Graziella Lonardi Buontempo, Cordone possesses a rich exhibition history and is an excellent example of some of the central aesthetic devices wielded by Pistoletto.

Pistoletto was the son of a restorer and would have been aware of the strong iconological pedigree held by the mirror within the history of Western art. He would’ve known how artists like Jan Van Eyck, Paolo Veronese, and Diego Velázquez used reflective surfaces to force viewers to engage with their works on an immediate level and he would have been aware of the artistic acclaim their mirror depictions had earned them. However, if these Old Masters started the practice, Pistoletto advanced it hugely and asserted his own role within the discourse. Where his aesthetic antecedents included mirrors in their works – glimpses of apparent reality within a wider illusion – Pistoletto includes his work within the mirror and drags the viewer’s reality into his illusion. The picture plane becomes an axis around which the physical fact of the viewing space and the illusory folly of the work blur and intermingle.

If the use of the reflective surface distorts the boundaries between illusion and reality, the inclusion of the heavy silken rope, strung flat against the picture plane, restores a sense of separation to the work. An obvious parallel might be drawn with the safety barriers in galleries: just as they inhibit you from interacting with the displayed works at close quarters, Pistoletto’s rope inhibits the viewer from interacting directly with the mirror and the illusory world beyond. It’s thick weave and heavy tassels lend a sense of exclusivity – their opulent appearance carries the unmistakable implication of a grander forbidden world beyond. By pairing this cordone with a reflective background, Pistoletto catapults his viewer into the forbidden realm beyond the picture plane while simultaneously emphasising its unattainability; he concurrently includes his viewers as the protagonists of the work, and underlines their permanent presence in the physical dimension.

The influence of Pistoletto’s career as a performance artist is also evident in Cordone. Pistoletto inverts the traditional role of the picture plane: the window through which the work recedes becomes a mirror out of which forms extend into the exhibition space and turn the work into a constant and infinite unscripted performance. Furthermore, Pistoletto’s mirror is not even a window but a door. The frame extends right down to the ground and the rope is at roughly waist height. The unmistakable human scale makes the interaction with the viewer even more intense, further heightens the sense of delineation imbued by the rope and makes the sense of the unattainable realm beyond even more tantalising.

In their vast reflective surfaces, the Mirror Paintings deliver a transitory experience – they exist in the eternal present; in Pistoletto’s own words, “The mirror isn’t a wall, it’s always in the future, all that is to happen tomorrow is already in it” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, Le Ultime Parole Famose, Turin 1967, n.p.). As with the best of Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings, Cordone elegantly engages the viewer and deftly manipulates the traditional role of the picture plane. What makes the present work stand out is the perfect balance between the mirror and the rope. They engage and exclude, appropriate and prohibit, and seamlessly weave the separate worlds of reality and illusion into a coherent whole.