Michelangelo Pistoletto was born on June 23, 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 next year, at the Galleria Galatea, 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 photosilkscreened images of people, life-size, 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 would recur throughout Pistoletto’s oeuvre. The Oggetti in meno (Minus Objects) of 1965-66 are among his earliest sculptural works.
In 1966 his first solo exhibition in the United States was held at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. In 1967 he won a grand prize at the Bienale of Sao Paulo and the Belgian Art Critics’ Award. Also in 1967 Pistoletto began to pursue Performance [more] art, an interest that would expand over his career to encompass work in 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) of 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 trend. 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 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 was spending much of his time in the mountain town of San Sicario. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he made sculpture that drew from art-historical precedents, working, from the early 1980s, 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, presented in 1979 in the piazza of Corniglia, and Anno uno (Year One), performed in 1981 at 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). His work has been included in major international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1966, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1986, and 1993) and Documenta in Kassel (1968, 1982, 1992, and 1997). 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.
Biography from the Archives of AskART.