ArtsNovember 18, 2010 at 3:15 am

Review: Michaelangelo Pistoletto At The PMA

Italian contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto has strewn the walls of the PMA with his artistic reflections in more ways than one. The show, “From One to Many,” running through Jan. 16, takes the viewer on a tour of this genius’s work, spanning the years between 1956 and 1974. A walk through the exhibition is a chronological journey through the artist’s career, from oil and acrylic on canvas to photographs of ordinary objects adhered to plexiglass and later conceptual sculpture pieces; the entire show is tied together with Pistoletto’s Quadri Specchianti or Mirror Paintings.
Pistoletto is known as one of the main innovators of the Italian Arte Povera movement which emerged in the ’60s, when artists began to question institutions such as government, industry and culture and incorporate elements that challenged existing power structures, freeing themselves from the established conventions of art–making. Arte Povera is marked by a use of simple materials and found objects — a quality which is evident throughout the show.
A self–portrait of Pistoletto greets each visitor at the entrance to the exhibit. Suspended in a wash of reflective black varnish, Pistoletto looks out from a seated position, inviting you inside. His earliest work is haunting; Pistoletto dopplegangers on opaque backgrounds stare at the captivated visitor. The mirrors, slivers of stainless steel create the impression of a fun house; the painted, tissue–paper figures depicted on them face away, as though suspended in their own reality. They are aloof, paying no attention to the viewer who cannot help but look at himself in the polished surface. The viewer becomes the focal point and the depicted figures, beige and black, recede into the background.
Pistoletto’s plexiglass works bring the concrete reality of a transparent screen to the collection. A work titled “Il Muro,” simply a plexiglass slab leaned against the museum wall evokes smiles from some patrons and looks of is–this–what–you–call–art–nowadays disgust from others.
The transparency and reflective quality of Pistoletto’s oeuvre suggests an objective of isolating his art from any concrete context. By the end of the exhibit you’ll have participated in political demonstrations, looked over a balcony with strangers, observed a potted plant at your feet and seen your face through bars. All figures and objects are taken out of their settings and placed into the viewer’s reality, giving an interesting temporality to Pistolleto’s depictions.
In his later works, Pistoletto introduces new materials: mylar makes lights dance across blank walls, rags previously used to polish varnished paintings are recycled in sculptures and the lightbulbs and wires previously rendered in two dimensions on plexiglass come alive as larger–than–life installations.
The entire show is marked by an intertwining of mediums — photography, drawing, painting and silkscreening are all combined. In one room, a corrugated cardboard flower looks as if it’ll eat you whole. The layout of this room recalls Peewee’s Playhouse, complete with a mini primary–colored home and toy chair and table set. But the entire set–up is a tease, signs everywhere remind you that you can look but Please Do Not Touch.
As the show’s name suggests there is an emphasis on transitions from singular to plural: from one–of–a–kind paintings to easily reproduced silkscreens, from a focus on the artist to a focus on the spectators, from depictions of singular figures to clusters of demonstrators. In the same vein, the visitor may be greeted by one painting at the start, but this exhibit displays more than one–hundred of Pistoletto’s works. Though remarkably novel, the Quadri Specchianti which run, in varying forms, throughout the entire show do get slightly redundant.
Pistoletto’s art is inspirational in its reverence for the ordinary. With his work, Pistoletto breaks down the barriers between the seemingly remote sphere of high art and that of the ordinary spectator by bringing special attention to everyday situations.. Walking away from this exhibit you’ll probably never look at light fixtures or cable wires the same way again, nor will you want to.

 
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