- Michelangelo Pistoletto
- Innamorati (Maria e Michelangelo)
- signed on the reverse
- painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel
Firmly installed in the pantheon of Europe’s most influential contemporary artists, Pistoletto’s dialogic Mirror Paintings defy categorisation, oscillating between spectacle and sculpture, photograph and performance. Frustrated with the imitative relationship between traditional painting and reality, the artist first experimented with a reflective ground in 1956 with a series of self-portraits on a shiny surface. Pistoletto consequentially refined this process in the early 1960s by substituting the glossy ground for a highly polished stainless steel one, onto which he pasted finely rendered photo-realist images that were painted on tissue paper. Soon after, in 1967, Pistoletto met Maria, initiating not only a life-long relationship but also a prolific artistic collaboration. Alongside the artist, Maria was a part of The Zoo, a renowned circle of artists, musicians, actors and writers, active between 1968 and 1971, who played a key role in the advancement of Arte Povera. The group performed unprompted theatre in Italian streets and piazzas, drawing on the rich traditions of wandering minstrels and the Italian improvised theatre, the Commedia dell’Arte, leading Pistoletto to develop his spirit of openness and experimentation that has become a fundamental characteristic of his body of work.
While toying with the dominant Pop aesthetic of the time, Pistoletto was also highly influenced by Italian artists such as Lucio Fontana, Agostino Bonalumi, and Enrico Castellani. The essence of Fontana’s Spatialismo Manifesto, to refute the traditional parameters of two-dimensional painting and create a space in which the viewer actively explores the possibilities of art, is echoed in Pistoletto’s phantasmagorical Mirror Paintings. Extending the canvas by introducing a reflective surface, he examines and unravels the distortive illusionism of perspective. Masterfully appropriating the language of trompe-l’oeil to entirely subvert it, the Mirror Paintings position themselves within a grand artistic tradition of mirrors such as Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère or The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez. What distinguishes Pistoletto’s works is a theatrical dramaturgy that infuses these pieces with rich performative aspects, naturally in flux through the constantly changing angle of the viewer. This is particularly evident in works such as Innamorati (Maria e Michelangelo), wherein the self-absorbed and self-contained subject matter overtly emphasises the intrusive presence of the viewer, transforming their function as living participants into what Pistoletto was increasingly coming to see as not just the ‘theatre’ of painting but as an entire world-theatre that embraced all aspects of life.