Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933)
Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933)

Marzia con la bambina (Marzia with the Child)

Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933)
Marzia con la bambina (Marzia with the Child)
signed, titled and dated ‘Pistoletto 64 Marzia con la bambina’ (on the reverse)
painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel

78 ½ x 47 ¼in. (200 x 120cm.)
Executed in 1964
Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris.
Galleria Sperone, Turin.
Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris.
Ileana Sonnabend Collection, New York.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
A. Minola, gian enzo sperone Torino Roma New York, 35 anni di mostre tra Europa e America, Turin 2000 (illustrated in colour, p. 83).
Arte Povera in Collection, exh. cat., Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 2000 (historical installation view illustrated, p. 314).
R. Lumley, Arte Povera, 2005, no. 43 (illustrated, p. 62).
Michelangelo Pistoletto, exh. cat., MAMAC, Nice 2007 (historical installation view illustrated, p. 30).
Michelangelo Pistoletto, Année 1 Le Paradis sur Terre, exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris 2013 (historical installation view illustrated, p. 153).
Paris, Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Pistoletto, 1964.
Turin, Galleria Sperone, Pistoletto, 1964 (illustrated on the cover; installation view illustrated).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Pistoletto, 1966 (installation view illustrated, p. 3).
Detroit, Hudson Gallery, Michelangelo Pistoletto, 1967.
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Pistoletto, 1969, no. VI.
New York, The Institute for Contemporary Art, P.S. 1 Museum, Pistoletto, 1988 (historical installation view illustrated p. 53).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Italian Art in the 20th Century, 1989, no. 199 (illustrated, p. 352).
Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Memory of the future. Italian art from early avant-garde to post-war, 1990.
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Michelangelo Pistoletto From One to Many 1956- 1974, 2010-2011, no. 24 (illustrated in colour, p. 199; historical installation views illustrated, pp. 186, 198). This exhibition later travelled to Rome, MAXXI - Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo.
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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

Ileana Sonnabend stands as one of the most influential and provocative figures of the recent art historical canon. Captivated by the groundbreaking work of twentieth-century Post-War and Contemporary artists, she was a tireless champion for their role as challengers of the status quo and initiators of creative thinking. From the engendering of cross-continental dialogue between American and European artists to the introduction of Pop art to Europe and Arte Povera and Neo-Expressionism to the United States, the impact of her exhibitions, initiatives, and connoisseurial eye is truly immeasurable. Sonnabend’s passion for art’s role in illuminating the human condition was passed to her daughter, the visionary curator and writer Nina Castelli Sundell. Throughout her life, Sundell broadened her family’s mission of disseminating Contemporary art to new audiences and environments. The estate of Nina Sundell, encompassing the bequest made to her by her mother Ileana, represents a poignant inheritance: a legacy in art that spans generations.

Marzia con la bambina (Marzia with the Child) is one of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s earliest quadri specchianti or ‘Mirror Paintings’. Executed in 1964, it belongs to an extremely rare and important group of seventeen early ‘Mirror Paintings’ - works that were effectively responsible for launching Pistoletto’s career when they were exhibited at the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris in March 1964. Marzia con la bambina (Marzia with the Child) is also a poignant and highly personal ‘Mirror Painting’ in that the subject of this mother-and-child composition is Pistoletto’s first wife Marzia Calleri, here seen at the edge of the painting’s reflecting steel surface, holding their then three year-old daughter Cristina. Since 1964, this painting, though much exhibited at many major exhibitions of Pistoletto’s work, has remained part of the Sonnabend Collection.
First begun in 1962, Pistoletto’s ‘Mirror Paintings’ comprise the extensive and ongoing series of ‘open works’ that have run, as the artist himself has described, ‘like a golden thread’ throughout his entire career. They are also the works that continue to inform and define much of his creative aesthetic today. Pistoletto’s very first mirror paintings were made and exhibited together for the first time at the Galleria Galatea in Turin in April 1963 where they initially garnered little enthusiasm or critical acclaim. It was only after a near-chance encounter with Michael and Illeana Sonnabend in Paris that these works came to secure Pistoletto’s international reputation and launched him in the United States and Europe as a leading exponent of the Italian avant-garde. For it was after meeting Pistoletto in Paris that the Sonnabends came to visit Turin and impressed by what they saw acquired the entire Galleria Galatea exhibition of ‘Mirror Paintings’ which they then opened to much acclaim and success at their own gallery in Paris in March 1964. Marzia con la bambina is one of the few Mirror paintings that, executed after the Galleria Galatea exhibition, was also included as one of the seventeen ‘Mirror Paintings’ that Pistoletto showed in Paris. Of these ten early works, most were sold immediately to clients that included Philip Johnson and the Menil Family. The Sonnabends themselves acquired the two images of Marzia from the show, Marzia con la bambina and Donna seduta di spalle (1963-4)I as well as Pistoletto’s ‘Mirror Painting’ of a solitary wine bottle, Bottiglia per terra of 1963.
Soon after his Sonnabend exhibition, Pistoletto’s work was also planned to be exhibited at the Castelli Gallery in New York where he immediately came, somewhat erroneously, to be understood to be an exponent of Italian Pop art. In this way though, an important and fruitful axis of cultural exchange between New York and Turin was established that was to have a major influence on the art of both countries throughout much of the 1960s.
Marking the introduction of the viewer into the work of art as a living participant in the ‘theatre’ of painting, Pistoletto’s quadri specchianti were works that had originally grown out of a series of self-portrait oils that the artist made between 1960 and 1961. These works had explored the relationship of a lone central figure to its background and had in turn been inspired by the existential portraits of lone male figures set against a painterly void made by Francis Bacon in the 1950s. In a moment of revelation in 1961, while attempting to paint his own face against a highly varnished flat monochrome background, Pistoletto caught sight of his reflection in the varnish and realised how suddenly the potential to expand painting into life had been opened up for him. ‘I realized’, Pistoletto later recalled, ‘that someone like Pollock, although he attempted to transfer life onto canvas through action’, had not succeeded ‘in taking possession of the work, which continued to escape him, remaining autonomous, and that the presence of the human figure in the painting of Bacon (also) did not succeed in rendering a pathological vision of reality. I (then) understood that the moment had arrived to make the laws of objective reality enter the painting.’ (Michelangelo Pistoletto, quoted in G. Celant, Identité Italienne. Paris, 1981, p. 81.)
Rather than the painted image of himself in the painting, Pistoletto now realized that the true protagonist of such a reflective work was the introduction of real life, space and time into the imaginary plane of the canvas. The ‘true protagonist’ he later wrote, ‘was the relationship of instantaneousness that was created between the spectator, his own reflection, and the painted figure, in an ever-present movement that
concentrated the past and the figure in itself to such an extent as to cause one to call their very existence into doubt: it was the dimension of time itself’. (Michelangelo Pistoletto, Minus Objects, Galleria La Bertesca, Genoa 1966).
Marzia con la bambina belongs among the very first of Pistoletto’s paintings to be made on the purely reflective surface of polished steel that the artist made subsequent to this defining revelation for him and which established the template for all the Mirror Paintings that were to follow. Having experimented first using traditional glass mirrors, Pistoletto turned ultimately to polished steel because its flat reflective surface avoided the problems with a disturbing depth of surface that glass mirrors gave. Similarly, after originally attempting to paint directly onto the steel surface without success, Pistoletto arrived, as in this work, at a process of using approximately life-size transfer drawings made from photographs on tissue paper. This process generated a realistic looking physical image that appeared to be embedded within the flat reflective plane of the steel mirror.
The very first of these hand-drawn images derived from a series of staged photographs by the photographer Paolo Bressano that Pistoletto asked to be made of himself, his wife Marzia and a small group of friends. Many of these original images depicted figures, often Marzia or Pistoletto himself, that face away from the viewer and into the mysterious interactive space provided by the mirroring steel. In all these works, in order view the ‘picture’ properly, the viewer (or the reflection of the viewer in the mirror) must also become a participant in the painting.
Here in this ‘Mirror Painting, the viewer must intrude upon an apparent moment of intimacy between a mother and child.
The subject of the mother and child is also, of course, a stalwart of Western and especially Italian art. Here, Pistoletto has rendered this image, using his own wife and child, in a deliberately mundane, unelaborate way, incorporating it into the work as if it were an almost incidental detail. By partitioning the figures at the edge of the painting in this way Pistoletto has ensured that the main emphasis of his picture is upon the empty space of the mirror; setting it up as a stage onto and into which the viewer - the true ‘protagonist’ of all his ‘Mirror Paintings’ - must walk and, ultimately, perform.
This youngster named Michelangelo Pistoletto, one cannot say that he is a Pop painter as someone has said, and if someone hasn’t said it, better be clear that this guy has nothing to do with Pop because in Turin, as probably in all of Italy, the premises for Pop painting do not exist, there is only this oppressive and invincible weight, no American Coke, no Vermouth Perlino, no vamps, not much use of deodorant, people still sleep in their pyjamas, people still cook pasta, squeeze the tomatoes, people still do all those things. At the Bar Torino on Piazza San Carlo you sit on little baroque chairs to eat lots of gelato but not much “ice-cream.” Thus I would say that this boy from Turin is a true poet, even if perhaps less incisive and caustic than the boys from New York, the Lichtensteins, the Rosenquists, the Rauschenbergs, the Oldenburgs, and the Chamberlains, in recounting to us the conditions of our own drama, our own story.’ (Ettore Sottsass Jr., “Pop e non pop: A proposito di Michelangelo Pistoletto,” Domus 414 (May 1964): 32–35).

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