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Pistoletto’s wall lamp.


Michelangelo Pistoletto (Italy), Tutti Designers, 1989.

Neon tube, aluminum suitcase, chrome-plated steel
Dim: W 28″ x D 1.75″ x H 30″

By Keith Johnson.

BORN IN BIELLA, Italy, in 1933, Pistoletto began his artistic career working as a young apprentice in his father’s art restoration workshop in Turin. By the 1950’s, he was painting figurative works, anticipating his startling combination of  printing photorealistic scenes of the early 1960’s on highly-polished stainless steel mirrors – an effect by which the actual viewer almost completely melts into the imagery that the artist depicted (Red Brigade rallies; couples interacting; pensive women lost in thought; etc.).

In the late 1960’s, Pistoletto began a series of works that he coined “Oggetti in meno (Minus Objects)” – his earliest sculptural entities.  Often merely consisting of huge mountains of rags with casts of reproduced Italian classical statuary leaning into them, these installations of common things helped to break down the outmoded  hierarchies of what “art” could be.  This usage of impoverished materials became a cornerstone of one of Italy’s most important contemporary art movements, Arte Povera (“Impoverished Art”).

This work brought Pistoletto a great deal of critical and positive feedback, but against the background of the 1968 student riots in Europe and America, his work became increasingly politicized (during this period, he subsequently withdrew participation in the preeminent Venice Biennale).  In the ensuing years, he has dealt primarily with conceptual ideas.

In 1994, Michelangelo Pistoletto announced an ambitious programme entitled Progetto Arte, the aim of which is a creative and socio-economic unification of all aspects of the human experience; in a simpler manner, systematizing all the achievements of civilization within their context in art (e.g. visual art, music, literature, politics, fashion, design, film and theatre).  Convergent with this high-minded aim, in 1996 he founded an actual art city entitled  Cittadelarte – Fondazione Pistoletto in an abandoned textile factory near his hometown of Biella, towards the aim of becoming an aesthetic laboratory supporting creative research and  innovative possibilities.

Enlarge an image by clicking on it.

“Tutti Designers” (“Everyone is a Designer”) is a conceptual wall lamp/neon sculpture with a stenciled metallic suitcase, complete with the obligatory Arte Povera exposed wires and raw metal wall-fasteners.  Is the suitcase merely a container for the necessary neon transformer, or a briefcase full of ideas?  When a man or woman carries similar cases to work, is their banal, repetitive daily rigour the truest form of “art”?  Does Pistoletto’s “lamp” swing between the conceptual exercise of ennobling a “ready-made” or breaking down the purpose of the artist/designer into a codified, coherent systemology?

Useless abstraction of “impoverished” materials or the weaving of memory & invention through repeated daily use?  As ever, it is all in the eye of the beholder.

Manufacturer: MEMPHIS Milano srl, Milan, Italy
Collection: Collezione META, 1989
Edition: Limited Edition of Five-Hundred (500) units only


Keith Rennie Johnson is the President and Director of Urban Architecture, Inc., in Brooklyn, NY. The gallery features important twentieth century visual and avant-garde decorative art and for 20 years has been the leading US dealer for Memphis Milano and Museo Alchimia.

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