The Years of Lead, between the late 1960’s and early 1980’s, were a divisive, violent time for the nation of Italy, reflecting the severe growing pains of a country recovering from the horrors of World War II while contending with rapidly shifting power flows and political ideologies that split much of Europe. With the economy at a standstill, and bloodshed in the streets, the country was forced to take a hard look at itself, evaluating its own identity and divided society.
It was in this atmosphere that the artists of the Arte Povera movement first came to prominence. Rejecting many outright standards of artistic classification and commodification, artists like Michelangelo Pistoletto sought new approaches to depiction and creation that politicized the work, making it a space for evaluation of the viewer’s values, and the art object itself.
It’s in this context that Luxembourg and Dayan exhibits a selection of early works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, showcasing the artist’s creative practice against the backdrop of political and social upheaval in post-war Italy. The approach embraces contextual elements of the Arte Povera rarely explored by exhibitions on the Italian movement, often favoring an abstracted approach that posits them as fundamentally opposed to the art market, or to a more vague, disembodied sense of revolution that ignores the inherently Italian nature of the artists’ works.
Symbols of decay and fragmentation abound throughout the show. On view in the corner of the room, a mirror and frame is separated by the corner of the room, bringing the planes of both real and reflected environment into a perpendicular intersection. The work scatters the viewer’s image, bringing unconsidered viewpoints to the fore, while others are forcibly concealed. In another, a bicycle is loaded down by clothing, unable to move under the weight of an absent wearer.
Pistoletto also toys with the roles of perspective and identification throughout his works. His mirror paintings, depicting working class laborers and suited figures (ostensibly politicians or well-heeled gentry), bring the viewer into the plane of the work, welcoming an evaluation of personal identity either with or against the environment of the work. Actively charging the act of self-reflection with political implications, Pistoletto demands some sort of response from the viewer. In another powerful work, the artist has bisected the room with a large wall, depicting the other side of the gallery space from behind bars. Unsure of their position as jailer or jailed, the viewer must contend with the bars themselves, and the sensations of power or subjection that they bring.
Putting a specifically located face on the work of Pistoletto, Luxembourg and Dayan presents a show that not only welcomes new engagement with the artist and his work, but also offers a historic portrait of Italy’s turbulent 1960’s and 70’s, welcoming a look into the broader cultural turbulences that generated much of Europe’s impressive works of the era.
Pistoletto Politico is on view until April 12th.