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Pistoletto's Exhibition Explores Early Works to the Mirror Paintings Open at Mazzoleni in Mayfair




A very comprehensive solo exhibition on Pistoletto has just open at Mazzoleni, 27 Albermale, Mayfair. He is one of the major representative of the Italian movement Arte Povera from the late 60s that challenged the status quo of the Arts scene at that time with an unconventional use of low-priced and daily materials. In Pistoletto's case, his main interest in uniting art and everyday life as one. His paintings rapidly evolved into his most popular works: the mirror paintings. It applied a printing technique of photorealistic images in mirrors and highly polished surfaces. The viewer with their image reflected on the mirror became a temporary addition to the painting. It blurs the boundaries among moving images, painting, photography and performance.

The show titled, Michelangelo Pistoletto: Origins and Consequences, curated by Alberto Fiz, which will continue until the 15 December, is a superb exploration of the before and after in the process making of the Post-War Italian master. I would recommend to start by the back end room that contains three paintings from the late 50s and facilitates an understanding of his Origins. An exhibition curated with authority by Fiz, an expert on Pistoletto's career, it carries on to display a wide variety of media from drawings to sculptural work and is an exhibition of museum quality that I highly recommend. La puerta obliqua ( The slanting door) is a very interesting work that shares his interest with the esoteric as other artists associated with Arte Povera such as Gino de Dominicis.

As Pistoletto said in an interview for Studio International:


‘The mirror is always part of one unique mirror. There is only one mirror that is fragmented in various moments and places’


Alberto Fiz, the curator of the exhibition, responds to the following questions:

LB: Pistoletto is one of the most internationally acclaimed Italian artists who has enjoyed solo and group shows at the most prestigious art institutions worldwide. What new insights does this exhibition bring by such a widely exhibited artist?


AF: It’s an exhibition that offers the possibility to analyse Pistoletto's investigation in its different aspects through his long creative process, not limited to his most famous production. Next to the figurative paintings of the late fifties that anticipate the mirrors, the exhibition clearly shows that the role of sculpture is just as important in its production since the work, Venus of the rags of 1967. In this instance, what is presented is the work, Mercury’s Gift to the Mirror, where the cast of the female figure (Hebe, the goddess of youth), derives, as in the case of the Venus of the rags, from a sculpture by Bertel Thorvaldsen, a neoclassical artist who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century. The peculiar aspect is that of reactivating the mechanism of history through its reflection in time: a simple "recycled" copy develops a new relational and synergistic process.

A similar situation also arises from the “figure that looks” Figura che si guarda, where Pistoletto reflects on the image nurtured by the search for its double liberating it from the weight of matter. The work, exhibited for the first time on this occasion, simulates marble but is produced in polyurethane, as if to escape from monumentality. What matters is the mental component of the work, its projection in history that becomes present.


LB: Why do you think the mirror paintings are still so prevalent today in the contemporary arts scene?


AF: Mirror paintings are one of the most significant inventions post the Second World war and, unlike other signs, do not age as they are activated by our presence. Pistoletto has created a dynamic mechanism where it is not only art that enters life, but where life enters art. Paradoxically, it could be said that social media has relaunched the mirror paintings. The continuous flow of images that we find on our smartphone are those that pass before the mirror paintings. Everyone, then, in front of these works, can take their own selfie. If we want to be more serious, it is essential to remember that the mirror paintings overturn the Renaissance perspective, as well as the expressed need of Lucio Fontana to go with the cut, beyond the canvas. The mirror paintings contain our history and our future in a continuous process of transformation. The temporal dimension, moreover, does not act in a metaphorical key, but rather as an event that changes in the moment in which it is produced. In front of the mirror paintings we are all "linked" and more aware of our destiny.


LB: The room dedicated to three of his early paintings from the late 50s is very helpful in understanding Pistoletto's process making. Can you expand on that, please?

AF: It is a "museum" room of great historical value that we have entitled Prima dello Specchio. Through these three works realized in the two-year period 1958-1959, it is possible to understand the research that leads to the mirror paintings dating back to 1962 and exhibited for the first time at the Galatea Gallery in Turin in 1963. Through his first experiments, it appears evident that for Pistoletto it was necessary find an alternative way to traditional painting and its purpose was to free the space behind the figure. This is a radical change that frees art from all forms of drama or existentialist psychology. It is no coincidence that Pistoletto displays symbolism, as is evident in an emblematic way in ‘The Black Man’, the alter ego of the artist who projects his image in an enlarged context. What matters is tearing the figure from the conditioning of subjectivity. But, as I said, Pistoletto works on the background from which the figure must emerge: in this sense, a determining influence is represented by the study of his father Ettore Pistoletto Olivero, painter and restorer, where he began experimenting on materials. I believe that the first idea of mirror paintings came to him by observing the Byzantine icons and their gold backgrounds. Moreover, gold, silver and copper were used by Pistoletto to find the most suitable solution and solve the problem that obsessed him. The figure, however, appears for the first time from black as recalled by Pistoletto himself: "When in 1961, on a black background, that had been painted to a mirror finish, I began to paint my face, I saw it coming towards me, detaching itself from the space of an environment in which everything moved and I was astonished ". This fundamental passage of his work is shown again in the exhibition by Specchio nero, a work with enamelled glass which, not coincidentally, shows the double dating of 1961-1989.


Photo credit:

Michelangelo Pistoletto 1933
Dono di Mercurio allo Specchio, 1971
Bronze and glass
146 x 44 x 56 cm (sculpture)
57 1/2 x 17 3/8 x 22 1/8 in (sculpture)
230 x 130 x 2.5 cm (mirror)
90 1/2 x 51 x 1/8 x 1 in (mirror)
Edition of 4
Courtesy Mazzoleni

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Saturday: 11 am – 5 pm
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