The exhibition Michelangelo Pistoletto e la fotografia contributed to Witte de With’s investigation into the relationship between photography and the visual arts. The exhibition presented the first survey of Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s (1933) photographic work. Pistoletto is generally associated with Arte Povera, a movement not usually connected to the implications of photography. Witte de With presented Pistoletto’s photographic works as a concentrated group, stressing the role of photography throughout his oeuvre.

These works were motivated by Pistoletto’s interest in the mediation between the internal logic of the image and the external effect of that same image on the viewer. For Pistoletto, this could only be achieved through the means of photography. He replaced the background of his figurative paintings by a sheet of highly polished stainless steel that acted as a mirror and turned the painted figure into a photographic one. By using a mirror as surface, the photographic figure is detached from the pictorial background. Thus, the logic of perspective is both fulfilled and reversed: the viewer penetrates the background of the picture by drawing away, or enters the picture – and sees himself entering it – to the extent that he draws near. What was the background becomes the space between objects in which the viewer can move, just as his reflection moves within the time of the mirror painting. As Pistoletto has said: “I’m interested in the passage between objects more than in the objects themselves.”

The mirror paintings enabled Pistoletto to escape all problems of change in pictorial art. They refer to both present and past; the present being affirmed through the mobility of the beholder’s reflection, while the photographic image refers to a past experience. Two related but asynchronous experiences are thus made to figure in the same picture. These dialectics were taken even further in a later series of mirror paintings in which Pistoletto reproduced his own objects, installations and sculptures.

The exhibition traveled to the Fundação de Serralves in Porto.