One of Pistoletto's “veline” (painted tissue papers), of an important date, and one of the most significant and rare that we have come across on our path. A self-portrait of the artist and his wife: young, beautiful, in love, full of life. A painting exhibited for the first time at L'Attico in Rome, documented by the rare gallery catalogue of that time.
In this beautiful composition, there are many details to look at, including some that are surprising: Maria's ring "cut out" on the reflecting panel, and also the belt loop of his trousers; the reflection of the light on his and her shoes; the creases in his trousers, the sleeves of her dress, "bunched" at the elbow. A work that always succeeds in capturing your attention.
When we acquired it, the work was in the same condition as it is now, with all the allure of its "experience".
In all the years that have gone by, we have loved it for what it is: a masterpiece you encounter every day, that offers you two permanent guests in your home, who have now become two silent friends, whose company you can always rely on. What is more, you can also think about "joining" them yourself, entering in a material way into the work, which welcomes your image.
In Pistoletto's complex and varied universe, the mirror paintings remain a magnificent, brilliant and, in a certain sense, magic intuition, and they certainly represent one of the best-known icons of Arte Povera in the world.
'The purpose and the result of my mirror paintings was to carry art to the edges of life in order to verify the entire system in which both of them function. After this, there remains only one choice. On the one hand there is the possibility of a monstrous involution and a return to the system of doubling and conflict, and, on the other-hand there is the possibility of revolution and of leaving the system altogether. One can bring art into life, as Pollock did, but no longer in terms of metaphor.’ (Michelangelo Pistoletto, Le ultime parole famose (The Famous Last Words), Turin, 1967)
Lei e Lui – Maria e Michelangelo is a full-length, life-sized, double-portrait ‘mirror-painting’ depicting Michelangelo Pistoletto and his life-long companion and artistic collaborator Maria Pioppi standing with their heads leaning together in an act of intimacy and union. Executed at the beginning of 1968 soon after Pistoletto and Pioppi had first met and fallen in love, this work was used as a kind of centrepiece for one of Pistoletto’s most famous and memorable exhibitions - his first one-man show in Rome held at the Galleria L’Attico between February and March 1968.
This 1968 exhibition, which was effectively the first to bring the doubled-world of Pistoletto’s ‘mirror-paintings’ out of the closeted, intellectual, flat realm of painting and into a public, Pirandello-like installation involving theatre, performance and life, marked the culmination of an increasingly open and collaborative approach to his work that had been growing throughout the previous year and which would ultimately develop into his theatrical group Lo Zoo. In Turin, in March of 1967 Pistoletto had met ‘the Living Theatre’. This was a celebrated troupe of players led by Julian Beck and Judith Malina then working in exile from America who, following the tradition of Antonin Artaud, were a communal, co-operative, enterprise living and working together with the aim of breaking
down the conventional structures and hierarchies of behaviour and power in modern society through the public staging of interactive and provocational poetic dramas. After seeing their performance of Mysteries …and Smaller Places, Pistoletto got to know several members of the ‘Theatre’ and invited them to stay in his studio throughout much of the year. This led soon afterwards to his ‘Open Studio’ and his ‘Manifesto of Collaboration”. ‘As I had “opened” paintings to the presence and participation of all’, he said referring to his mirror-painting, ‘why not “open” a physical space instead?’ (Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with M. Bandini, in NAC, Bari, November 1973). Throughout the year Pistoletto also made regular visits to Rome, taking part in what is often thought of as the very first Arte Povera exhibition, Fuoco, immagine, acqua, terra at the L’Attico gallery in June. After meeting Maria Pioppi in Rome in November of the year and taking her back with him to Turin, Pistoletto’s developing spirit of openness and collaboration evidently formed an important part of his thinking behind what was to be, in February 1968, his first one-man show in Rome.
In part, Pistoletto’s 1968 show at L’Attico also reflected a response on the artist’s part to the increasingly open and theatrical approach to exhibition-making that the gallery’s owner Fabio Sargentini was then also encouraging from his artists. As Sargentini has recalled, this aspect of the L’Attico gallery was a distinctly ‘Roman thing’. Pascali and Kounellis ‘gave to Rome a certain importance’ he remembered, ‘and together we became a kind of ‘force de frappe’...and Pistoletto in Turin was the first to understand this and become interested in what was happening in Rome, so he came very often and established a good contact with us, especially with Pascali... He couldn’t have done…(what he wanted to do)… in another gallery (or) in Turin at that time but he also did it with me because of the things that Pascali and Kounellis had done.’ (Fabio Sargentini, ‘A Conversation with Fabio Sargentini’, R. Brown, Pino Pascali, Ponte, London, 2008, p. 34) The previous year, 1967, L’Attico had seen both Pino Pascali’s radiant blue seascape-grid Approximately 32 Square metres of Sea and Jannis Kounellis’ paintings with live caged-birds installed in the gallery. Indeed, throughout 1967, Sargentini remembers, ‘Pistoletto and Pascali became pretty close, and Pistoletto started to spend a lot of time in Rome. Pascali,... had a strange relationship with women. He had a fiancé, Maria, but he was happy to, in a certain way, to leave Maria to Pistoletto...And then afterwards, he used to give her fantastic gifts like a ring, made out of the same kind of blue fur that he used for his spider...or a chair made from the same stuff…So Pistoletto was very much a part of what was going on in Rome at that time and I offered him a show and he was very aware of and sensitive to the wavelength we were on. He is very intelligent and understood how everything was moving toward a sense of theatre and of performance etc, although… what he was really concerned with at this time was the mirrors. The mirror was his thing.’ (Fabio Sargentini, quoted in R. Brown, op cit., pp. 34-6)
Perhaps appropriately therefore, Lei e Lui…, Pistoletto’s selfportrait of himself with Maria Pioppi, was the leading ‘mirrorpainting’of his first show at L’Attico. Indicative of Pistoletto’s collaborative participation in Sargentini’s ‘force de frappe’, it is also a work that announces himself and Pioppi as both a couple and as artistic collaborators, performers in their own ‘mirrorplay’ which at L’Attico took the form of a complete fantastical environment. The work was placed in the centre of the innerroom of the exhibition, behind a vast fake plaster column - one of a series of seemingly random landscaping props from a Cinecittà film-set that were arranged around the space along with an installation of two other, smaller, mirror-paintings and twenty empty wooden chairs for people to sit in. The two other mirror-paintings in this room were a typically artistic image - a reclining nude - and another portrait of Pistoletto and Maria, this time seated and talking together as if they were a part of the exhibition audience. This room, mixing a fake landscape with reflections of ‘reality’ and static images of the exhibition’s author and his partner, formed the main stage or exhibition space of the show and was accessed from another outer room that effectively served as an off-stage dressing room.
The central idea of the exhibition was that it serve as an interactive arena that invited the active participation of the audience to create the ‘play’ or spectacle of the show. In the outer room, which served as the entrance to the exhibition, there was a coat rack hung with elaborate costumes from Cinecittà that viewers were invited to put on so as to become performers in the exhibition space of the inner room with its film-set props and mirror-paintings of the exhibition’s hosts Michelangelo and Maria. At the entrance to this room was a single spotlight focused on the viewer like a stage-light. In front of them was positioned a single mirror-painting with a tissuepaper image of a stool in which they would see themselves in costume about to enter the collective performance of the inner room.
Establishing a complete break down of the borders between, life, theatre, performance and art so that the identity of the viewer took on many layers and was also seemingly thrown into question, this show marked the culmination of Pistoletto’s experiments with mirrors in the 1960 and signified the beginning of a wider interest and increasing involvement with public theatre. The critic Giulio Carlo Argan writing in the catalogue entry for the show, published in March, called Pistolletto’s approach with this exhibition a ‘poetics of the threshold’. Like Pistoletto’s taking of his ball of newspapers out onto the streets of Turin, which he had done with Pioppi in one of their first collaborative actions, in January 1968, his exhibition at L’Attico similarly marked the full integration of Pistoletto’s ‘doubling’ world of mirror-paintings into the real world of their audience, the community and societal life in general.
Continuing the show’s predominant theme of interactive participation and open collaboration, Pistoletto returned to Turin between February and March where he commissioned ten young film-makers to make ten short films that were subsequently shown at the L’Attico gallery on the last day of the exhibition. Following this, in the highly political month of May 1968, Pioppi and Pistoletto announced the creation of their own theatre troupe Lo Zoo which, from May 1968 until the end of the decade in 1970, operated like a modern-day commedia dell’arte, touring and performing seventeen productions in a variety of public arenas that ranged from the city streets to large theatres. This period was a kind of collaborative honeymoon following the inaugural exhibition of personal, public and professional union that the L’Attico exhibition had been for the couple.
In 1969, looking back at mirror-paintings such as Lei e Lui – Maria e Michelangelo, Pistoletto remarked, ‘The mirror paintings could not live without an audience. They were created and re-created according to the movement and to the interventions they reproduced. The step from the mirror paintings to theatre - everything is theatre - seems simply natural…. It is less a matter of involving the audience, of letting it participate, as to act on its freedom and on its imagination, to trigger similar liberation mechanisms in people.’(Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with G. Boursier, in Sipario, Milan, April 1969, 17).