The mirror is an object possessed: one that inhabits multiple planes and multiple senses of the natural world. It reflects, it rejects, it subjects and peers straight through. Once that field of vision is fractured or interrupted, it becomes more digestible. We are attracted to broken things, less intimidated by their grandiosity and sublime veneer cracked. Italian contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto plays on these variants with tongue-in-cheek humor on one end of the scale, and dark, stark visual truths in the other.
In the heart of Tuscany, one of the world’s most formidable gallery programs is tucked away into three spaces in the main square of San Gimignano (often called the ‘Manhattan’ of Tuscany because of its high stone towers). Galleria Continua was founded by Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo in 1990, using the ‘hidden’ element of the Medieval commune of San Gimignano to the advantage of creative exploration for both established and emerging artists. The formula pitted tradition against avant-garde, as artists such as Ai Weiwei, Antony Gormley, Mona Hatoum and Ilya & Emilia Kabakov were paired with younger practitioners including Etel Adnan, Kan Xuan and Nikhil Chopra. The gallery space, itself, was a contradiction manifested as it occupied a 1940’s-era cinema (with its original projectors still intact) showing groundbreaking installation and new media projects. Its main gallery space, literally, is a ‘stage’ where the artists and their works assumed the task of a live performer. Two additional spaces are accessible steps away from the Via del Castello address: the first, a cold, cave-like annex and the second, a spacious white-walled room (its most recent occupant was Adnan, showing a series of oil paintings and sketches inspired by the formations of the California coastline). Pistoletto’s solo exhibition occupied the main ‘stage’ at Via del Castello and the dark enclave at the nearby The Mortuary Chapel.
The first space displayed Pistoletto’s most recognizable mirror works in two formats. First, his “Vortice (Vortex)” cycle was comprised of large mirrors in splendid, gilded frames; the reflective glass surfaces were blocked out by geometric and free-form negative spaces. Sitting in the middle of the floor were large shards of broken mirrors arranged in a tidy pile. In the second room, two new “Quadri Specchianti” (or ‘Mirror Paintings’, the series began in 1962) sat opposite one another; an image of a woman creating a gesture of a square appeared in the second work, showing a man admiring a Roman statue. Both figures were observed by Pistoletto as he roamed throughout the Louvre during this year’s “Année1 – Le Paradis sur Terre” exhibition. In a corner space near the reception desk, two mirrors in their opulent frames hung, splintered by the force of a mallet. These were a part of Pistoletto’s live performance during the 2009 Venice Biennale, “Twenty Two Less Two”.
The ‘screening room’ and the galleries above flanking the main stage are home to variations on Pistoletto’s massive project stemmed from a 2003 manifesto entitled “Terzo Paradiso (Third Paradise)”. At the center of the floor, three concentric circles made from colorful, upright “cymbals” form the infinity “symbol”. The galleries display photographic incarnations of the sign made from formations of people, rocks, recycled aluminum and imprinted in sand. It is the “Third Paradise” project that, quite possibly, offers up the artist’s most potent decree: art is for and of people, not owned nor qualified by anyone. Pistoletto’s work has embodied selfless expression for over three decades; the act of disembodiment in the service of aesthetic production. Three isn’t just a biblically significant digit, three isn’t the limit of universal dimensionality, three is one up from two: one more than right or wrong, one more than male or female, one more than truth or fiction.
Michelangelo Pistoletto is on view through January 7th, 2014.
For more information visit Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Italy.
-Contributed by Shana Beth Mason
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