Michelangelo Pistoletto - Scaffali | Simon Lee Gallery

It’s OK to be a one-trick pony, if the trick’s good enough. Michelangelo Pistoletto is associated with the arte povera movement of Italy in the 1960s, and is famous for his ‘mirror paintings’, large wall-mounted mirrors with painted or printed images on them. The first mirror painting dates from the early 60s. And Pistoletto is still at it, judging by this show, currently at Simon Lee Gallery.


The dimensions of the mirrors haven’t changed much over the decades. This new set, dating from 2014-15, all feature silkscreened images of shelves and their contents. The mirrors include the observer, and it’s the uneasy combination of the static image and the moving reflection that generates a slight tension; the distorted image of the watcher over the slightly uneven surface adds to the uncanny feel, if you look long enough.

But any sinister feeling is undercut in the latest work by the deliberate banality of the objects on the shelves: crates of food, art supplies, cheap ‘oriental’ vases, still with barcode stickers attached. Another with stainless steel canteen cooking urns and utensils. The shelves themselves are similarly utilitarian, metallic, scuffed. The silkscreen transfers - bit of a 60s throwback in itself - is muted, grainy.

“The mirror became the protagonist of my work, in itself,” the artist says, in a video accompanying the show. “The shelves represent all the sectors of society. The tools of each activity are represented. All that for me became a social engagement - putting together all the details of the society.

“There’s not glory. There’s daily life, daily activity, that unites humanity.” So, maybe rather than banality - normality, that unites us. Reflected watcher and depicted object, joined by the surface of the mirror.

Michelangelo Pistoletto: Scaffali is at Simon Lee Gallery (London). 23 February - 7 April 2018.