Firmly installed in the pantheon of Europe’s most influential contemporary artists, Pistoletto’s dialogic Mirror Paintings defy categorization, 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 1960 with a series of self-portraits on a shiny surface; later that year and into 1961, Pistoletto refined his process 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. While toying with the dominant Pop aesthetic of the time, Pistoletto was also influenced by Italian artists such as Lucio Fontana. Indeed, the essence of Fontana’s Spatialist 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.
As with the best of Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings, Scultura di Chamberlain elegantly engages the viewer and deftly manipulates the traditional role of the picture plane. What makes the present work stand out is its distinct dialogue with the work of Pistoletto’s American contemporary. It posits this work at the very brink of Pistoletto’s own ascent to international fame amongst an international legion of Pop Artists, whilst engaging with some of the key tenents of his practice: citation, authorship, reality and illusion.
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