Hirshhorn Plaza

Thursday, September 5, 2002

Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933), a prominent Italian avant-garde sculptor who rarely speaks in the United States, will present the 2002 Mordes Lecture in Contemporary Art on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m. in the Ring Auditorium of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The museum is on Independence Avenue at Seventh Street S.W. in Washington, D.C.

“The Mirror” is the title of Pistoletto’s talk–a reference to recurring themes and materials in his work. The artist’s space-altering reflective “mirror paintings,” sculptures and architectural environments, and works in Plexiglas, wood, cardboard and rags, sometimes combined with casts of classical statuary, explore themes of doubling, space, time and identity. Active since the 1960s, Pistoletto was first aligned with Italy’s Arte Povera (pronounced POE-vera) movement, literally translated as “poor art.”

A major international exhibition, “Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972,” is on view at the Hirshhorn beginning Oct. 24. The show, which includes work by Pistoletto and 13 other artists, provides a comprehensive look at Arte Povera’s dynamism and range, which energized art of the day with second-hand materials and discards, an almost nomadic sense of construction, autobiographical and political subtexts, and more.

Born in Biella, Italy, Pistoletto established his reputation in a series of exhibitions in Turin throughout the 1960s, notably featuring his mirror paintings, in which figures and everyday objects are reproduced on reflective stainless steel panels. Also during that decade, dealer Ileana Sonnabend, who then had a gallery in Paris, presented his work alongside that of Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and others.

However, Pistoletto’s austere, anti-commodity stance set him apart from the American artists. Such non-traditional three-dimensional works as his “Minus objects,” started in 1967, overturned convention. One, titled “Struttura per parlare in piedi (Structure for talking while standing),” is a metal frame to rest hands and feet during conversation, encouraging viewers to use the sculpture as well as look at it. The artist has continued to merge art and life in discrete sculptures and architectural environments. He participated in “Documenta” exhibitions (Kassel, Germany) in 1982, 1992 and 1997, and had major retrospectives in Vienna, Munich and Barcelona in the mid-1990s and early 2000.

Pistoletto is the first artist to participate in the Mordes Lecture series, an annual Hirshhorn forum for critics, curators, scholars and museum directors. Early Arte Povera champion Germano Celant, Guggenheim Museum Director Thomas Krens and two-time Venice Biennale Visual Arts Director Harald Szeeman are some of the past lecturers. The series, established in 1993, is sponsored by collectors Marvin and Elayne Mordes of Baltimore.

No reservations are required for the free lecture, and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Hirshhorn is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Closed Christmas Day, Dec. 25.) The nearest Metrorail stop is L’Enfant Plaza, Maryland Avenue exit. Admission to the museum is free.

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