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Art and politics unite

A stirring Pistoletto exhibition opens before a major retrospective

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Art and politics unite

February 12 2013
Charlotte Abrahams

Art’s power to serve as a crucible for cultural, domestic and political discussion and engagement is the focus of a stirring new show by one of Italy’s foremost contemporary artists, Michelangelo Pistoletto. The thought-provoking exhibition, Pistoletto Politico, opens on Tuesday February 12 at London’s Luxembourg & Dayan gallery, ahead of a major retrospective at the Musée du Louvre in April, and features eight of the artist’s seminal works. All make reference to the assassinations, incarceration and insurrection that punctuated the political landscape in Italy during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s – also known as the country’s anni di piombi (years of lead).

Pistoletto has been a pivotal figure in the development of Italy’s arte-povera movement and many of the pieces here are highly conceptual; they include an upturned leather armchair with mirrored base (first picture; Mobili Capovolti, 1976) and a bicycle strewn with rags (second picture; Pavone, 1968-74). His acclaimed mirrored surfaces also make an appearance in La Gabbia (1967-1974), where a silkscreen of jail bars is mounted on to four sheets of polished stainless steel. It makes for unsettling viewing, since the reflections put the spectator on both sides of the bars, raising questions about moral supremacy. Drawing the viewer into the fray of culture and politics – however contentious – is key to Pistoletto’s creative drive.

While all the work on show here is politically charged, each piece is also rather beautiful. The painting Comizio X (third picture; 1965), with its black-suited men and vivid red tissue-paper flag, is a particular aesthetic highlight. It is also for sale, along with four other pieces at the show. Prices start from €245,000 and, with the retrospective on the horizon, collectors may consider this an excellent time to buy.