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b. 1933, Biella, Piedmont, Italy
Michelangelo Pistoletto was born in 1933 in Biella in the Piedmont region of Italy. He worked under his father in Turin from 1947 to 1958 as a painting restorer. In the 1950s he made figurative paintings, including many self-portraits. Pistoletto first participated in the Biennale di San Marino in 1959. His first solo exhibition was held the following year at the Galleria Galatea in Turin. In his self-portraits of 1960–61, he covered his canvases with grounds of metallic paint, and subsequently replaced the canvas completely with polished steel. His photo-silkscreened images of people, life-size and on reflective steel, were intended both to integrate the environment and the viewer into his work and to question the nature of reality and representation. Mirrored surfaces recur throughout Pistoletto’s oeuvre. The Oggetti in meno (Minus Objects) of 1965–66 are among his earliest sculptural works.
His first solo exhibition in the United States was held at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 1966. In 1967 he won a grand prize at the Bienale of São Paulo and the Belgian Art Critics’ Award. Also in 1967 Pistoletto began to pursue Performance art, an interest that would expand over his career to encompass film, video, and theater. With the Zoo group, which he founded, Pistoletto presented collaborative “actions” from 1968 until 1970. Meant to unify art and daily existence, these performances took place in his studio, in public institutions such as schools and theaters, and on the streets of Turin and other cities.
Pistoletto’s employment of everyday materials—as in the Venere degli stracci (Venus of the Rags) (1967)—a copy of a classical sculpture of Venus set against a huge mound of old clothes and fabrics—aligned him with Arte Povera. Since 1967, when the term Arte Povera was coined, Pistoletto’s work has been included in gallery and museum exhibitions devoted to that movement. He withdrew his work from the 1968 Venice Biennale in response to student demonstrations at the event, which were among the countless protests that took place across Italy during that volatile year.
Pistoletto’s book L’uomo nero, il lato insopportabile was published in 1970 by Rumma Editore, Salerno. In 1974 he passed a ski instructor’s exam and spent much of his time in the mountain town of San Sicario. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he made sculptures that drew from art-historical precedents, working in polyurethane and marble. In 1979–80 he presented Performance works in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia, as well as in San Francisco. Among his theater works are Opera Ah (1979), presented in the square in Corniglia, Italy, and Anno uno (Year One) (1981), which he performed in Rome’s Teatro Quirino.
Retrospectives of Pistoletto’s art have been presented at Palazzo Grassi, Venice (1976), Palacio de Cristal, Madrid (1983), Forte di Belvedere, Florence (1984), Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome (1990), and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2000). A major retrospective of Pistoletto’s work is slated for 2010 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His work has been included in major international exhibitions including Documenta 4, 7, 9, and 11 in Kassel (1968, 1982, 1992, and 1997) and the Venice Biennale (1966, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1993, 1995, 2003, and 2005). At the 2003 Venice Biennale, he was awarded the Leone d’Oro for lifetime achievement, and in 2007 he was awarded the Wolf Foundation Prize in Jerusalem. Pistoletto announced the creation of Progetto Arte in 1994, a program intended to unite the diverse strands of human civilization through art. To further this goal, he established Cittadellarte, Fondazione Pistoletto—a center for the study and promotion of creative activity—in Biella in 1998. Pistoletto’s engagement in these social issues and his interest in symbology prompted the artist’s most recent artistic phase, Third Paradise (begun in 2004), and his envisioning of the new infinity sign. Pistoletto lives and works in Biella and Turin.