Michelangelo Pistoletto, a visionary figure who believes artists have a mission to change the world, jokes that our antipasti are tantamount to arte povera food — their simple and honest ingredients reflecting the philosophies of the revolutionary artistic and social movement he launched way back in the 1960s.
‘Everything in my work has come from the mirror,’ he says, ‘and the idea that it reflects society and reality.’ Pistoletto sees the destruction of a mirror as a way of pointing up the interconnectedness of the world.
‘Each shard still has the same reflecting quality as the whole mirror. So all mirrors are connected, smashed or intact, just as all humans share the same basic DNA. I see society as a kind of broken mirror.’
It is misleading to translate ‘arte povera’ — which Michelangelo Pistoletto launched with the critic Germano Celant and various other artists in 1967 — as ‘poor art’. It’s much more accurate to render it as ‘plain art’. As Pistoletto says: ‘Povera does not mean without money in your pocket. It means the essential energy of art.’
Born in Biella in 1933, Pistoletto grew up under fascism. ‘You had to believe — in God and in Mussolini. I felt there was a terrible contradiction in believing in a system producing hate, producing massacres. After the war, Italy saw the rise of both capitalism and communism. You had to believe in one or the other. Discovering modern art was, for me, an illumination. Now I could think rather than believe.’