Michelangelo Pistoletto - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Michelangelo Pistoletto 'Gruppo di persone', 1962

    Michelangelo Pistoletto's 'Gruppo di persone', 1962 to be offered in our 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 8 November 2015 in New York.

  • Provenance

    Galleria d'Arte Galatea, Turin
    Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (1963)
    J.L. Hudson Gallery, Detroit (1965)
    Lee Hoffman, Michigan
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1991

  • Exhibited

    Turin, Galleria d'Arte Galatea, Pistoletto, April 27 - May 14, 1963
    Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 1964 International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, October 30, 1964 - January 10, 1965

  • Literature

    Pistoletto, exh. cat., Galleria d'Arte Galatea, Turin, 1963, no. 3
    Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Pistoletto, Electa Editrice, Milan, 1976, p. 6, no. 8 (illustrated)
    Rivoli, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Un’avventura internazionale. Torino e le arti 1950-1970, Charta, Milan, 1993, p. 11 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Gruppo di persone from 1962 is a seminal example of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Specchi works and one which directly references his early self-portrait paintings. The figure to the left is indeed the same image of the artist he uses in many of those formative pictures. Pistoletto was the first artist of the Arte Povera, a group established in 1967, to understand the need to deal with the “issue” of painting. His roots in painting were strongly influenced by a radical exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work that was organized by Mario Tazzoli at his Galleria Galatea in Turin in 1958. Between that year and 1961, Pistoletto experimented with the human figure and glossy varnish, creating a reflective surface in his paintings that announced his fascination with the presence of the viewer within the works themselves. The man's figure on the left, who has turned his back to the viewer, is the artist himself. Pistoletto played freely with his own image in the early reflective paintings, and standing in front of Gruppo di persone, the viewer becomes part of the composition, reflected in its surface and embedded in the scene alongside the artist. Included in the artist’s first show of Specchi at the Galleria Galatea in 1963, Gruppo di persone was the largest of the 15 pieces exhibited, of which one is now in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Nationalgalerie in Berlin and the Pinault Collection in Paris.

    In the early 1960’s, painting was under attack by the radical transformations taking place within the realm of contemporary art and by the political commitment of many young artists who saw, in the medium of painting, a symbol of conservative, if even reactionary and bourgeois thinking. Pistoletto was often ahead of the curve looking to solutions for problems, which sometimes had seemingly not yet been discovered. By 1967 when the Arte Povera challenged the supremacy of painting with utterly new materials, Pistoletto had already been celebrated with an exhibition of his Specchi in 1966 at the Walker Art Center, one of the most visionary institutions in the United States, presenting the work of the most superlative postwar vanguard European and American artists.

    Possibly the very first Specchio, this superb 1962 work clearly bridges the passage from the glossy paintings to the mirrored surfaces. In this work, Pistoletto started experimenting with the velina paper, a very thin special tracing paper used for architectural drawings, on which he starts drawing images and people from photographs. The two figures on the right are taken from a photographic source and depict the artist’s good friends: his fellow artist, Renato Rinaldi and the poet Piera Oppezzo. Pistoletto and Rinaldi had befriended one another at the Testa school of advertising and maintained a very close friendship and mutual respect for one another. Rinaldi appears in many of the early works and is closely associated with the conception of the early chi. The figure of the man on the left, Pistoletto himself, is the same figure that was used in one of his last paintings from 1961, Il Presente-Uomo di schiena. This more painterly and rough figure will not reappear in any other later mirror where the subjects will be, from now on, exclusively borrowed from photographs often taken by the artist himself or his wife.

    Gruppo di persone is both a unique document and an amazing work, which chronicles the transformation and the mutation of the artist’s language and style. Pistoletto’s repeated use of figures that give their back or look at the space right behind the viewer emphasizes the theatrical game of representation and investigation of what is real: the external reality reflects itself on the work, it enters as a part of the work. In the essay in the Galatea exhibition catalogue, Luigi Carluccio writes, “The porous opaqueness of the paper, and the mirrored surface of the stainless steel, bring about an alternative to the penetrating and levitating function of light. [...] If one moves the picture [...] everything moves and changes. It is possible to move inside the picture, enter it and leave it again, slowly, quickly, from left to right; one can also insert oneself into it for a while, staying motionless so as almost to be a part of it, taking in the character or characters whom Pistoletto has left there.” (L. Carluccio, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Galleria Galatea, Turin, 1963; English translation in: G. Celant, Pistoletto, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 1976, p. 93).

    Moving from shiny lacquer to mirror, Pistoletto was able to achieve an amazing feat, renouncing the medium of painting without having to give up the experience of painting. The Specchi are in fact a new generation of paintings where industrial materials still serve the need of a symbolic space and the viewer’s experience. In doing so, Michelangelo Pistoletto proved himself as one of the most radical and yet sophisticated artists of his time and Gruppo di persone a corner stone of his groundbreaking oeuvre.

Property from the Estate of Philip and Edna Minkin, Bloomfield Hills


Gruppo di persone

graphite on tissue paper on mirror-polished stainless steel, mounted to canvas
71 x 49 in. (180.3 x 124.5 cm)
Signed and dated "Pistoletto 1962" on the reverse.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,405,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm