Michelangelo Pistoletto in Belgrade: “I cultivate the regenerative power of art.”

A leading figure since the early 1960s on the world art scene, Michelangelo Pistoletto was in Belgrade for his first retrospective exhibition in the Serbian capital titled “Preventive Peace,” which opened Friday, May 10, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the presence of Minister of Culture Nikola Selakovic, Italian Ambassador Luca Gori and President of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and former Minister of Culture Maja Gojkovic. In this exclusive interview, Michelangelo Pistoletto talks for the Serbian Monitor about essential topics of his artistic journey.

Maestro Pistoletto, the celebrated Venus of the Rags is also on display in Belgrade. Is Venus, the essence of beauty in the classical sense, in danger of being concealed by the heap of waste?

Quite the contrary! Venus embraces and supports the pile of rags because beauty does not deteriorate and Venus is the regenerative force par excellence, regenerating what industrial production and compulsive consumption throw away as useless, worn out, and discarded.  Venus also represents the memory of beauty, which remains intact despite everything.

The Belgrade retrospective also features The Minus Objects. Is this perhaps an act of rebellion against the categories and rules that the big players in the art market wanted to impose on you almost sixty years ago?

I would call it rebellion, but rather the artist’s will to remove themselves from the consumerist art system. This artwork still makes sense today, in the face of overproduction, pollution and the erosion of natural resources. The work proposes the search for a balance between the necessary improvement of our living conditions and the risk that it will turn against us, degrading the environment in which we live. The exploration of this essential balance is found and resolved in the formula of the thematic work of The Third Paradise from 2023 – the two circles at the extremes, representing the natural and artificial worlds developed by technology respectively, touch and merge with the central circle to symbolize the harmony between the artificial and natural worlds.

When you began your artistic journey, artwork in the age of technical reproducibility was a central topic, which various artistic directions have worked on. Today, in the age of synthetic image processing by Artificial Intelligence where can we find the aura that Walter Benjamin wrote about?

The aura is the human thought that through artifice (a term derived from art) gathers the thoughts and memories of the whole society, including Artificial Intelligence. It is up to us to cultivate a widespread spirituality, a venerable attitude (a term derived from Venus) capable of a unifying gaze or allow ourselves to be broken down into a monstrous, multiple virtuality.


An anthological exhibition of the great Italian artist, ranging from the 1960s to the present day, illustrates the artist’s entire vocabulary, including sculptures and installations, but also photographs, videos, early artistic activities in public space up to the most recent paintings consisting of coloured QR codes that can be enjoyed visually as abstract art, but can also be activated by revealing stories in digital format. Staged by the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art in collaboration with Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto, Zerynthia Association and the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrade, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia and the Embassy of Italy in Belgrade, the exhibition will be open until September 10, 2024.

“Michelangelo Pistoletto is one of the most important contemporary Italian artists. It is therefore a great honor to be able to welcome him to Belgrade for an exhibition that will allow to strengthen the strong cultural bond between Italy and Serbia and to reflect through art on such a delicate historical moment for peace and security in Europe,” said Italian Ambassador to Serbia, Luca Gori.

Can contemporary art still look beyond the present or is it increasingly limited to reflecting common sense and market expectations?

The market is a component of society and there should be no discrepancy between the market and society. It is necessary to pursue a balanced exchange of values in the field, lest it be based instead on debts (financial or environmental) left to grandchildren.

How has the social responsibility of artists changed over the past decades?

Many artists pursue pure individualistic affirmation, but there are just as many who still aim to merge their individual creativity with society and thus realize new forms of art and life. The prospect of changing society today must be framed in the creative work that everyone can manifest in his or her own way. Either complain or take action! I feel happy when I create. Everyone, even if they are not artists, can create, help generate something or some initiative and you feel better while doing it.

What was the artistic temperament that in 1968 led Germano Celant to assemble young artists like you and Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini the Arsenali di Amalfi in the legendary event “Arte povera, azioni povere” which launched a new way of understanding the artistic experience?

It was a pivotal moment. The movement called “Arte Povera” was characterized not so much by the materials used but by the call for essentiality and for a radicality of the artistic experience. A simple seed can generate a forest. This generative capacity of art was grasped at the time by many young people. It was a time of dreaming for an entire generation; new forms of coexistence between people and between them and nature were being envisioned. This dream was succeeded by the nightmares of the 1970s. Even today we are surrounded by nightmares, which is why we need to cultivate the power of art to combat certain nightmares, preventively.

MICHELANGELO PISTOLETTO, QR Code Possession, Self-portrait 2019-2023. Photo by Damiano Andreotti.

Michelangelo Pistoletto is a world-famous Italian artist. Winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and the Imperial Prize in Japan in 2013, he has exhibited in the world’s most important museums, including the Louvre and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA and the Salomon R. Guggenheim in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

He is the son of painter Ettore Olivero Pistoletto, who introduced him to medieval and Renaissance painting traditions and painting restoration techniques from an early age.  He later attended the graphic advertising school directed by Armando Testa. Pistoletto established himself with “mirror paintings” and in the second half of the 1960s, became a protagonist of the Arte Povera art movement. In the following decades, he continued to explore the intersection between various experiences of artistic life through installations and performances called Creative Collaborations, while in the 1990s, he presented Segno Arte, an encounter of two triangles that interpenetrate and represent the sign-imprint-identity that each subject imprints on the various environments that he crosses. In 2017, a reconfiguration of the symbol of The Third Paradise is chosen as the logo of the VITA space mission, during which photos taken by astronaut Paolo Nespoli were shared through the SPAC3 app to create a collective planetary work. In the same year, his text Hominiteism and Demopraxia – a Manifesto for a Regeneration of Society was published.

In 1998, in the premises of the former Trombetta Woolen Mill in Biella, his hometown, he established Cittadellarte, a place of encounter and collective artistic, social, cultural and ecological elaboration that facilitates the meeting of people from different cultural and professional backgrounds and the synthesis of the natural and the artificial to pursue their profound harmony and the regeneration of what exists.

by Biagio Carrano

The featured image is courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade. By Bojana Janjić

This post is also available in: Italiano

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