Michelangelo Pistoletto (born 23 June 1933 in Biella) is an Italian painter, action and object artist, and art theorist. Pistoletto is acknowledged as one of the main representatives of the Italian Arte Povera. His work mainly deals with the subject matter of reflection and the unification of art and everyday life in terms of a Gesamtkunstwerk.
From 1947 until 1958, Pistoletto worked in his father’s restoration workshop in Turin. In the 1950s, he started painting figurative works and self-portraits. In 1959, he participated in the Biennale di San Marino. In the following year, he had his first solo exhibition in the Galleria Galatea in Turin. In the beginning of the 1960s, Pistoletto started painting figurative works and self-portraits which he painted on a monochrome, metallic background. Later on, he combined painting with photography using collage techniques on reflective backgrounds. Eventually, he switched over to printing photorealistic scenes on steel plates polished to a high finish. He did that using the screen-printing method which made the observer almost completely melt in with what was depicted. In the mid-1960s, gallery owner Ileana Sonnabend brought him into contact with an international audience.
In 1965/1966, he produced the series of works Oggetti in meno (Minus Objects), which belongs to Pistoletto’s early sculptural works. In 1966, Pistoletto had his first solo exhibition in the USA, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In 1967, his work was awarded first prize in the Biennale de São Paulo. In the same year, Pistoletto started focusing on performance, video art and theatre. He founded an action art group, called "Zoo Group", which gave several performances between 1968 and 1970. These took place in the studio, public buildings or on the streets of Turin or other large cities. As was already the case with Pistoletto’s 2-dimensional and sculptural works, the aim was to display the unity of art and everyday life. Pistoletto is represented by the Simon Lee Gallery in London and the Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York.
Michelangelo Pistoletto began painting on mirrors in 1962, connecting painting with the constantly changing realities in which the work finds itself. In the later sixties he began bringing together rags with casts of omnipresent classical statuary of Italy to break down the hierarchies of "art" and common things. An art of impoverished materials is certainly one aspect of the definition of Arte Povera. In his 1967 Muretto di straci (Rag Wall) Pistoletto makes an exotic and opulent tapestry wrapping common bricks in discarded scraps of fabric. The work received a lot of feedback: Pistoletto, who started under the American influence of "post-pop art" and photorealism, was soon listed by gallery owners and critics in the catalogues as a significant representative of the novel, mostly Italian trend of the Arte Povera. Against the background of the 1968 student riots, Pistoletto withdrew his participation in the Venice Biennale. In the following years, he dealt with conceptual ideas, which he presented in the book L'uomo nero (1970). In 1974, he nearly completely withdrew from the art scene: he took an exam as a skiing instructor and spent most of his time in the mountains of San Sicario. At the end of the 1970s, he produced sculptures, heads, and torsos using polyurethane and marble. In doing so, he was a recipient of antique artifacts and he furthermore pursued other performance and theatre projects–including those in the USA in Athens, Atlanta, and San Francisco. At the beginning of the 1980s, he presented theatre works, such as Anno Uno (March 1981) in the Teatro Quirino in Rome. Since 1990, Pistoletto has been living and working in Turin.
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