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The Inverted Mirror: Art from the Collections of "la Caixa" Foundation and MACBA

January 31, 2012 – September 2, 2012

Themes | Mirror Architecture (Architettura dello Specchio)

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"I can see myself, or perhaps I can't see myself, while you can see me in the mirror. But it's not just us or whoever is in front of it now, he who is distant is also in the mirror. Indeed we are in the mirror even when it's not in front of us. Nothing escapes the mirror. The great space is in the mirror, time (whole time) is already in the mirror and space has the dimension of time."10

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mirror Architecture (Architettura dello Specchio), 1990

Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. Biella, Italia, 1933-) was born in a house where art was part of daily life. His father was a painter who ran an art restoration workshop and he taught his son to draw at a very young age. When Pistoletto turned fourteen he started working at his father's side. During the 1950s he adopted a figurative style, applying it to many self-portraits. Since the beginning of the 1960s, the artist has evolved his figurative painting and self-portraits onto monochromatic, metallic backgrounds. Later pieces combine photography and collage, and include reflective backgrounds. He also employed concave or convex distorting mirrors that create a game of sorts with the viewer, whose reflected image is enlarged or reduced in comparison with the life-like painted figures. Pistoletto continued exploring the reflection theme and eventually replaced canvas with polished steel, to finally move on to the use of mirrors.

Around 1967 he expanded his work to include performance, film, video, and theater. Pistoletto was associated with Arte Povera, an Italian art movement from the 1960s that incorporates organic and industrial materials in ways that reveal the conflicts between the natural and the man-made. His pieces were distinguished by the use of materials of everyday life such as cloth, wood, corrugated cardboard, and mirrors, among others.

In Architettura dello Specchio (1990), Pistoletto mainly deals with the subject matter of reflection and the absence of it, a theme that is central to many of his works. He has said that his mirror paintings were the foundation of both his subsequent artistic production as well as his theoretical ideas and writings.

10. Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Michelangelo Pistoletto

  • What do you notice?
  • Why might an artist choose to use a fractured mirror to create a work of art?
  • The piece was intended to "interact" with the architectural setting where it is displayed, as well as with the viewer and his/her reflection. How does the architecture become a part of this piece? How does the viewer interact with the work?
  • Imagine that the work was placed in a different setting: an outside location like a forest, or an interior like a supermarket. How would our perceptions of the piece change?
  • Pistoletto said about his work, "Now that the mirror has come to light from Art we can see inside history, the bright and sparkling history in the thickness of the mirror and the life that Art reflects in this thickness."11 He also states that mirrors accumulate thousands of stories, as if time froze inside them capturing the people who walk in front of them. Ask your students to write a story with the mirror as the central piece. To begin writing they have to imagine where this gigantic mirror might be situated. Who owns it? What other furniture stands around it? What other things are found in this imaginary space? Tell them to incorporate in their story the fact that the mirror is fractured in four pieces. As part of creating their story they have to justify its form.
  • Many artists have used mirrors as symbols within their work. Mirrors are objects rich in symbolism. They can represent the threshold between dimensions, or can symbolize the gateway between this world and the next. Mirrors symbolize both illusion and naked reality. They can have an air of mystery and superstition, and reflect us back to ourselves. Brainstorm a list of possible symbolic meanings that a mirror might have. Then create a short story that explores the symbolism of mirrors.

11. Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Michelangelo Pistoletto

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