Michelangelo Pistoletto helped lay the foundation for one of the most influential European movements of the 1960s, Arte Povera. These artists rejected abstract painting in favor of evoking classical concepts through unassuming, everyday materials. In 1961, Pistoletto began a series of mirror paintings, initially mimicking the effect using metallic paint on canvas before moving to polished steel surfaces. The earliest of these paintings are populated by individual figures, but he eventually expanded his imagery to groups. This allowed the artist to fill the picture plane, limiting the open reflective areas. Here, the only vacancy within the composition is at the center (the man in light gray on the edge of this region is a self-portrait of the artist). The title of this work, Holy Conversation, alludes to a type of Italian Renaissance painting in which saints are gathered in conversation. While viewers can visually join Pistoletto’s group, they are unable to be part of the mysterious discussion. The inexpressive faces and flatness of the figures further emphasizes this sense of detachment and isolation.
Label from Giant Steps: Artists and the 1960s, June 30–December 30, 2018