Lot 53
  • 53

Michelangelo Pistoletto

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
356,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Michelangelo Pistoletto
  • Senza Titolo (Untitled)
  • silkscreen on polished stainless steel


Jay Gorney Modern Art Gallery, New York

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989


New York, Jay Gorney Modern Art Gallery, Anno Bianco, February 1989

Catalogue Note

Comprising a highly polished mirrored surface with a screen-printed image of a suited man, Untitled is an iconic paradigm of Michelangelo Pistoletto's most acclaimed works, his Quadri Specchianti or Mirror Paintings. Frustrated with the imitative relationship between traditional painting and reality, Pistoletto first experimented with the incorporation of reflective grounds into his works in 1956 with a series of self-portraits cast against shiny oil paint. He consequentially refined this process in the early 1960s; by experimenting with various techniques, Pistoletto perfected his method in 1962. Substituting the glossy ground for highly polished stainless steel, he painted from photographs – taken of his friends and chosen to give the greatest sense of verisimilitude – onto tissue paper and then carefully applied these delicate sheets onto a stainless steel background. From 1971 onwards however, he began to silkscreen these images onto steel using a four-colour printing method. In the present work the life-size screen-print of a darkly-suited anonymous man standing with his back to us is related to the artist's early paintings on canvas, such as Uomo grigio di schiena (Grey Man from the Back) from 1961, as well as his iconic self-portraits, celebrated as some of the very first of Pistoletto's mirror paintings, such as Figura su sfondo Nero also from 1961. Standing with his back to the viewer – which, if read within the parameters of the mirror, suggests a face-to-face encounter – the present work is closely aligned with a comparative piece in the Tate Collection, London, entitled Standing Man.

In keeping with the best of the Quadri Specchanti, the present work does not deliver a snapshot of a moment in time, but rather offers the viewer a transitory experience. Catching glimpses of their immediate surroundings within the reflective surface of the present work, the viewer becomes an active participant in Pistoletto's unique illusory artifice. Confusing traditional boundaries and projected into the realm beyond the picture plane, the subject enters into an active visual dialogue with the life-size image of an elusive male figure; indeed, catapulted into the space in front of the standing man, the viewer becomes the implied object of his gaze.

The son of a picture restorer, Pistoletto was well versed in the canon of Western art. He would doubtless have been aware of the iconological pedigree held by the mirror; 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 understood the artistic conceit that their mirror depictions afforded. However, if these Old Masters started the practice and formed the tradition, Pistoletto advanced it hugely and asserted his own role within the discourse. Where his aesthetic antecedents had included mirrors within their works – glimpses of an apparent reality within a wider illusion – Pistoletto includes his whole work within a mirror-like reflective surface and thus projects his illusion directly into the viewer's reality. This technique inverts the picture plane, so that it becomes an axis around which the physical fact of the viewing space and the illusory representation of the work blur and intermingle.

In his celebrated Quadri Specchianti the artist creates an entirely unique artistic language that synthesises the eminent and immortal dimension of the artwork with the unpredictable and fleeting conditions of existence. Presenting an immersive and perfomative dialogue with the viewer, the present work is a compelling example from this ground-breaking corpus – a striking paragon of that ambiguous threshold between art and reality that is so characteristic of Pistoletto's work.