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$1,500,000 - 2,000,000
sold for $2,175,000
Luciano Pomini, Castellanza
Finarte, Milan, November 9, 1976, lot 131
Private Collection, Europe
Acquired from the above by the present owner
San Marino, V. biennale internazionale d'arte contemporanea, July 31 – September 30, 1965, no. 288
Milan, Galleria del Milione, Testimonianze nella Raccolta Pomini, April 16 – May 16, 1970, no. 44, n.p. (illustrated)
Michael Sonnabend, “Michelangelo Pistoletto”, konstrevy, no. 6, Stockholm, 1965, p. 189 (illustrated)
“It is the first of a series of processions and political parades I did over the course of 1965….the material is polished steel and acts as a canvas pulled on a wooden frame. The idea was for me that the slab was a layer of paint on the canvas. The polished steel had and still has the value of any pictorial pigment. The particularity of this pigment is to show pure light and at the same time a lively image.”
– Michelangelo Pistoletto, Turin, December 18, 1965
An iconic example of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s coveted Comizi (Demonstrations) series, Corteo (Procession), 1965, stands firmly within the artist’s pantheon of groundbreaking mirror paintings. Pistoletto created his first mirror paintings in 1962, tracing often seemingly banal photographic images of friends and objects on thin tissue paper and affixing the hand-painted, life-size cut outs on the mirror-like surfaces of stainless steel panels. Corteo was the first of 16 Comizi mirror paintings Pistoletto executed between 1965 and 1966. It is testament to Corteo’s singular significance that it was the first Comizi work ever to be exhibited when it was included in the cutting-edge International Biennial of Contemporary Art in San Marino in 1965. Formerly in the collection of Luciano Pomini, one of most important collectors of contemporary art in Italy, it stood in dialogue with works by other titans of the 20th century art historical canon, such as Lucio Fontana, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.
In Corteo, as in the other works from this series, Pistoletto presents the viewer with an ambiguous scene whose meaning is further obfuscated by the multiplicity of meaning associated with the title. Here, two flag-bearing figures march across the mirrored picture plane while a non-descript red flag waves above them. As is typical for Pistoletto’s subjects, their bodies and gaze are frustratingly directed away from the viewer’s gaze. The purpose of their procession, too, remains unclear and shifts within the context of time and place of its exhibition. It is only when the viewer approaches the work that the image is activated, unfolding cinematically: the figures remaining static while the world around them is constantly shifting. The series takes as its source a selection of photographs the artist had commissioned of street processions in Turin. The performative aspect of the crowd’s movement captured in the photographs found its purest distillation when Pistoletto presented a selection of these mirror paintings together at his landmark solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 1966. Other Comizi works from this show included Vietnam, 1965, The Menil Collection, Houston; Comizio N. 2, 1965, Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Bandiera Rossa (Comizio I), 1966; another Corteo, 1965; and No l’Aumento del Tram, 1965, the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Executed in 1965, Corteo speaks to the very moment when Pistoletto was on the precipice of his international breakthrough. Within the two years leading up to Germano Celant’s introduction of the Arte Povera movement in 1967, of which the artist would be hailed a defining member, Pistoletto achieved substantial critical acclaim in both Europe and the United States under the tutelage of legendary art dealers Ileana Sonnabend and Leo Castelli, both of whom promoted him as a Pop artist on the strength of his mirror paintings. Following the artist’s first solo exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in 1964, in 1966 Pistoletto was included in the 33rd Venice Biennial and received his first solo museum exhibition with the Walker Art Center’s Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World. This show notably also represented the first solo exhibition dedicated to a European artist of his generation in the United States. In the same year, the Museum of Modern Art’s, New York, mirror painting Man with Yellow Pants, 1964, was celebrated in its The Object Transformed exhibition alongside works by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, both of whom also acquired Pistoletto’s mirror paintings.
While Walker Art Center curator Martin Friedman positioned Pistoletto’s oeuvre within the larger trajectory of Surrealism, Pistoletto’s mirror paintings arguably struck a chord with the Pop Art-enthralled art world. As art critic John Ashbery noted in 1964, “The mirror surfaces automatically pick up the rest of the room, including you who suddenly find yourself, like it or not, the subject of a Pop picture” (John Ashbery, ”Michelangelo Pistoletto”, 1964, in John Ashbery, Reported Sightings, New York, 1989, p. 158). In addition, Pistoletto’s complex photographic transfer method parallels the Pop Art strategies of photographic appropriation and manipulation. Corteo’s photographic element and political subject matter in particular recalls Andy Warhol’s Race Riot paintings from 1963-1964, which Pistoletto had likely been aware of as Warhol’s Pink Race Riot, 1963, had been exhibited in the artist’s solo exhibition at the Ileana Sonnabend Gallery in January and February 1964, immediately preceding Pistoletto’s own solo exhibition at the gallery in the following month. Like Warhol’s Race Riot series, Pistoletto takes as his point of departure the social unrest of the mid-1960s, a period in history punctuated by the protests against the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement in the United States and the Cold War.
In a similar vein to Warhol’s appropriation of the iconic Life magazine photograph of the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights Protest, Pistoletto’s imagery in the Comizi series is based on photographs he had commissioned Renato Rinaldi, who had often been shot in the artist’s studio for the first mirror paintings, to take of rallies in the streets of his native Turin. As Pistoletto typically staged photographs in his studio, this was the first time he commissioned outdoor images. Under Pistoletto’s direction, sections of these photographs were then reshot to isolate individuals from their original context. Rather than apply these photographs directly to the surface, as he would later do with a silkscreen process starting around 1971, Pistoletto replicated the imagery in a calculated process of tracing and painting on thin tissue paper. To negate the hand painted nature of the image, Pistoletto affixed the painted side of the sheet to the steel plate – the reverse application conceptually mirroring the photographic process itself. This complex process not only offer varied reconfigurations of the same figures across different artworks, it also allowed Pistoletto to manipulate the pictures. He did so either to achieve a level of neutrality, as in Corteo, or to conversely imbue it with the pervasive atmosphere of social unrest of the mid-1960s. In Vietnam, 1965, The Menil Collection, Houston, for example, Pistoletto altered the name of a banner to refer to Vietnam War protests. As Pistoletto notes of the pervasive ambiguity in such works as Corteo, “He who makes a protest painting arrests his vision at the fact that he portrays. He does not take one position or another—he removes his judgment in his literal translation of the photograph onto the stainless steel surface” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, quoted in Jeremy Lewinson, “Looking at Pistoletto/ Looking at Myself,” in Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mirror Paintings, London, 2010, p. 5).
While Corteo in many ways demonstrates the artist’s admiration for Pop Art, he vehemently forged his own artistic path – boldly declining Leo Castelli’s invitation to move to New York and join his eminent gallery. Insisting on authentic human experience, Pistoletto forewent the traditional painter’s canvas in favor of the highly-polished mirrored surface. Reared on the techniques of Renaissance painters and their tricks of illusion and perspective, Pistoletto thereby explores the relationship between figure and ground, and between figure and space more broadly. Actively implicating the spectator, Corteo engages with the entire dimension of time as static and moving image converge. As Pistoletto explained, “In my mirror-paintings the dynamic reflection does not create a place, because it only reflects a place which already exists—the static silhouette does no more than re-propose an already existing place. But I can create a place by bringing about a passage between the photograph and the mirror: this place is whole time” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, quoted in Minus Objects, 1966, online).
$1,500,000 - 2,000,000
sold for $2,175,000
New York Auction 16 November 2017