- Michelangelo Pistoletto
- Dono di Mercurio allo specchio (Mercury's Gift to the Mirror)
- bronze statue and mirror
- statue: 146.6 by 45.7 by 53cm.; 57 3/4 by 18 by 20 1/2 in. mirror: 228.9 by 120cm.; 90 1/8 by 47 1/4 in.
- Executed in 1971-92, this work is number 1 from an edition of 4.
Goetz Collection, Munich
David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2004
Munich, Sammlung Goetz, Werke aus der Sammlung, 1993
Bremen, Neues Museum Weserburg; Nuremburg, Kunsthalle Nürnberg; Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein; Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig; Göteborg, Konsthallen Göteborg; and Munich, Sammlung Goetz, Arte Povera: Arbeiten und Dokumente aus der Sammlung Goetz 1958 bis Heute, 1997-99, p. 179, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Memoria Intelligentia Praevidentia, 1995, pp. 74-75, illustrated
Alberto Lucarelli and Ugo Olivieri, Eds., A Piene Mani: dono, dis-interesse e beni comuni, Pomigliano d'Arco 2013, another example illustrated on the cover
The relationship between the work and the viewer is one of the central aspects of Dono di Mercurio. By placing the statue to one side, and putting it at an angle, Pistoletto forces the viewer to join the composition, to observe their own reflection as part of the work. In creating this moment of deliberate interactivity, Pistoletto blurs the line between subject and object; the viewer’s reality becomes part of the illusion and the tension between the existent and the non-existent is heightened. This elegant counterpoint suffuses the work with a sense of transience: with each new viewer, the composition changes. In Pistoletto’s own words: “The understanding of the work of art as a coherent whole that was made in the past and conceived at a particular moment is interrupted since a part of the past tends to disappear and become a part of the viewer’s present” (Michelangelo Pistoletto quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Pistoletto, 1969, n.p.).
As well as defining the relationship with the viewer, the mirror also interacts directly with the statue. It can be argued that the statue is gazing into a bowl in which there is a reflective surface, standing-in for perhaps water or oil. She is lost in her own gaze, as are we when we gaze into the mirror. We mirror her activity and she mirrors our activity. There is a double mirror and a double gazing that renders the work especially moving.
By casting the mirror in such a central role, Pistoletto asserts himself as part of a grand artistic tradition. We might compare this work to Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, or Edouard Manet’s Bar aux Folies Bergeres, even Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Velázquez’s Las Meninas is a classic comparison for any of Pistoletto’s reflective works but here we might focus more on the Rokeby Venus. In both Velázquez and Pistoletto, the viewer approaches a Venus figure from behind, and in both works the viewer sees the reflected face of the goddess in a mirror.
The son of a restorer, Pistoletto would doubtless have been aware of the pedigree to which he alluded in his use of mirrors. It is then, with an element of playfulness that he appropriates this practice, and subverts it. Where the Old Masters included mirrors within their work, here we see a work included within the mirror. Furthermore, the sense of duality derived from the reflection inverts the traditional route of recession through the picture plane, and brings the work out into the viewing space. It is in this aspect that we notice Pistoletto the performance artist: the gallery becomes the stage, and the viewers become the players.
This work is then a direct challenge. Where Velázquez allowed the seventeenth-century viewer to merely observe the beauty of Venus, Pistoletto forces the contemporary viewer into a comparison, forces them to stand alongside the Gift of Mercury – judged to be the most beautiful woman of the classical world – and enter into a visual dialogue. While it may seem somewhat ironic to label a bronze statue and a large mirror as Arte Povera, in this work we are forced to consider the poetry of the mundane everyday object in the face of classical paradigms of beauty, just as we are in the Virgin of the Rags. However, the midden of dirty cloth so prominent in that work is gone here, and we the viewers, deftly manipulated by Pistoletto’s mirror, are installed in its place.