Monday, November 26, 2007

Looking Over The Shoulders of History and The Future

Once an artist reaches a certain age and reputation it is often difficult to approach their work with a critical eye, this was my first impression on viewing Michelangelo Pistolletto’s latest exhibition at the Simon Lee gallery. Returning to his familiar paintings on mirrors this seemed reassuring but perhaps a little unsatisfying to one who has kept a close eye on this artists work, initially it is possible to remain disengaged from the work, pacing around and stopping in front of each piece it is possible to indulge in ‘visual snacking’. Each mirror painting in isolation is a quick and easy hit, from the middle aged trio engaged in conversation who stand apparently ignoring you as you see your reflection peering back over their shoulders or the television cameraman who points the camera out of frame to some indeterminate point. All the images seem very static, actions frozen in time, a couple at a peace protest wave a flag and look directly at you but they do not move, held in mid step they beckon your engagement but once stopped in your tracks give no more. It is when the man who stands with his back to you not looking at the you in the gallery behind him but perhaps looking at the you in the gallery in front of him reflected in the mirror that the human interaction and personality play begins, it is not when you hold yourself still and look that the works unlock themselves but when you begin to move that those in the mirrors begin their movements also. Once the process begins your movements around the gallery unlock your interactions with those depicted on each mirrored panel, other panels are reflected back into sight alongside yourself and the others in the gallery, the mirrors, the gallery space itself, you the viewer, the portraits on the mirrors and adjacent walls at which the gaze of those depicted ends at some indistinct point in the gallery space, all become integral to your experience. It is a dance of humanity in which we move through and alongside others, their influence or lack of influence on us and ours on theirs becomes the overarching theme of Pistoletto’s installation. These reflections of humanity and the associations of society and community is the true key to the unlocking of this series of works, this installation, Pistoletto’s career and his unusual success in remaining stylistically familiar but still refreshing engagement with his work. It is this firm rooting in humanity and society that keeps Pistoletto a fresh and engaging artist many years after the beginnings of his career.

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