Michelangelo Pistoletto (B. 1933)
Michelangelo Pistoletto (B. 1933)

Biennale 66

Michelangelo Pistoletto (B. 1933)
Biennale 66
signed and dated 'Pistoletto 66' (on the reverse of each panel)
four panels—painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel
each: 90 5/8 x 47 1/4 in. (230.2 x 120 cm.)
overall: 90 5/8 x 196 3/4 in. (230.2 x 499.7 cm.)
Executed in 1966.
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, New York
By descent to the present owner
A. Boatto, Pistoletto: dentro/ fuori lo specchio, Rome, 1969, no. 30 (illustrated).
Risonanze 3: Michelangelo Pistoletto and Giovanni Sollima, exh. cat., Rome, Spazio Risonanze, 2009, no. 68 (illustrated).
Venice, La Biennale di Venezia, 33rd International Art Exposition, June-October 1966, p. 97, no. 6, fig. 106 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Michelangelo Pistoletto, April-March 1967.
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, V Biennale d'art Contemporain, September-November 1967, p. 95, no. 8.
Madrid, Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Retiro, Michelangelo Pistoletto, October-December 1983, pp. 155 and 225, no. 7 (illustrated).
Bordeaux, CAPC musée d'art contemporain; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Berlin, Hamburger Bahnhof; Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna; Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto; Geneva, Musée Rath; Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Art; Sendai, Miyagi Museum of Art; Hiroshima, Fukuyama Museum of Art and Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art, Collection Sonnabend: 25 Années de Choix et d'Activités d'Ileana et Michael Sonnabend, October 1987-February 1991, p. 164 (installation view illustrated in color).
Venice, La Biennale di Venezia, Palazzo Ducale, Venice and the Biennale: Journeys of Taste: Paintings and Sculptures 1895-1972, June-October 1995, p. 256.
Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College, Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery; Columbus, Ohio State University, Wexner Center for the Arts and Milwaukee Art Museum, From Pop to Now: Selections from the Sonnabend Collection, June 2002-May 2003, pp. 114-115 (illustrated in color).
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rome, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Michelangelo Pistoletto: From One to Many, 1956-1974, November 2010-June 2011, pp. 226-227, pl. 39, fig. 183 and cover (illustrated in color).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

In Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Biennale 66, representation and reality are curiously abutted as his painting becomes a space for the viewer to inhabit. An iconic work from Pistoletto’s seminal quadri specchianti works, or mirror paintings, Biennale 66 is composed of four monumental mirror-polished stainless steel plates. Two of the plates have been collaged with spectacular silkscreened images that have been enlarged so as to exist on the scale of the observer: movie-set lights and a rather blasé-looking child actor from an award-winning film shown at the 1966 Venice Biennale. In the scene, Pistoletto leaves critical physical and conceptual space for the spectator. “Mirrors bring people into the image, and that is very meaningful to the work,” the artist has noted (M. Pistoletto quoted in A. Walleston, “Pistoletto is Our Mirror,” Art in America, April 5, 2012, n.p.). Reflected in the steel’s mirrored surface alongside the young child, the viewer is necessary to complete the scene at hand; to add an element of vivant to the tableau; to bring the work to full fruition. As electrifying meetings ensue between static and dynamic elements, between surface and depth, and between fiction and reality, the spectator—whether collaboratively, intrusively, or unwillingly—finds him- or herself entering into “new spatial and psychological relationships” (M. Friedman, Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1966, n.p.). The illusionism at hand is no simple visual trick, nor mere trompe d’oeil. Rather, Biennale 66 boasts a phrenic illusionism that is conceptually fecund and existentially anxious, as the viewer is made a voyeur of his or her own being in time and space in relation to the static picture plane and in relation to art itself.

Firmly installed in the pantheon of Europe’s most influential contemporary artists, Michelangelo Pistoletto has worked in media ranging from painting and sculptural installation to video and performance. Of this celebrated and varied oeuvre, it is the artist’s mirror paintings that constitute his most important body of work. The mirror paintings defy categorization, flickering between spectacle and sculpture, photograph and performance. Pistoletto’s dialogic mirror paintings broke new aesthetic ground in the 1960s when they exploded “the stranglehold of perspective” put in place by Abstract Expressionism and leveraged objective reality to open up a radical new mode for the viewer to experientially “enter in the painting itself” (J. Lewison, “Looking at Pistoletto/Looking at Myself,” M. Auping, J. Lewison, and P. Gielen (eds.), Michael Pistoletto: Mirror Paintings, Ostfildern, p. 15). In works like Biennale 66, it is not only perspective that is shattered, but also time; the viewer, in present tense, enters a shared reality with past moments crystallized by the act of photography. The scene transcends pictorial and sculptural bounds to instead exist in four dimensions. Conceptual fissures and disjunctures ripple through the work’s polished surface. Every boundary between time, space, and medium is brilliantly broken or inverted; as the artist has expounded, “The entire system of representation has been flip-flopped. The system has arrived at a reflection of itself” (M. Pistoletto, “The Image and its Double,” Bit 1, December 1967, p. 9).

To create Biennale 66, Pistoletto commenced with still photographs of a child actor and movie-set lights. He cut out and enlarged these images and silkscreened them onto two of four steel plates, all of which had been mirror-polished. Pistoletto perfected the mirror-painting process over time; the artist used aluminum sheets before opting for mirror-polished steel. He initially applied cutout photographic images or gelatin directly to the surface of the steel before moving to painted tissue-paper silhouettes which he adhered to the steel surface.

Biennale 66 is a brilliant visual manifestation of the act of viewing a film: it is the viewer who is the undeniable protagonist, even when put up against a movie star melancholically “anchored to the poetics of solitude” (J. Molder, “Duplex,” Michelangelo Pistoletto E La Fotografia, exh. cat., Witte de With, Rotterdam, 1993, p. 35). The present piece brings to a head the various filmic elements that permeate Pistoletto’s oeuvre, from the contemporary coolness of his photographically derived imagery, to the aesthetic parallels in his mirror paintings to postwar cinema by Italian directors like Bernando Bertolucci and Michelangelo Antonioni. Ruminating on the oblique engagement with film in his work, Pistoletto noted that his pictures were superior to cinema as “screens representing images in motion without the necessity of machinery to record and project them” (M. Pistoletto quoted in M. Friedman, Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1966, n.p.).

Born in 1933 in Biella, Italy, Michelangelo Pistoletto spent his youth working as a painting restorer in the family business in Turin. In the 1950s he began to paint figuratively, focusing in on the genre of self-portraiture. Two key developments laid the groundwork for his acclaimed mirror paintings. In 1957 and 1958, the artist made a succession of life-size portrayals of single figures, and in 1960 he coated the grounds of his large figurative canvases with metallic paint before turning to polished steel. It was in 1961 that Pistoletto produced the first mirror painting, a self-created genre which he continued to hone and refine until it reached its pinnacle in phenomenal mid-1960s paintings such as Biennale 66. The artist went on to found an experimental performance group, Zoo, and work in film, theater, and sculpture. Michelangelo Pistoletto was a pivotal figure in the Arte Povera movement, and art historians and scholars have also related his multifaceted oeuvre to Pop Art, environmental experiments, happenings, Surrealism, and the work of Italian filmmakers including Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Federico Fellini. Pistoletto has been included in eleven Venice Biennales, and in 2003 he won the Venice Biennale’s prestigious Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement. Major retrospectives of Pistoletto’s work have been held at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Palacio de Cristal in Madrid, Forte di Belvedere in Florence, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, and, most recently in 2010, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A key work in the series for which the artist is best known, Biennale 66 is a testament to the innovatory conceptual brilliance that has secured Pistoletto’s place in the art historical canon.

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