The Serpentine Gallery describes Michelangelo Pistoletto as a “leading figure” in Arte Povera and conceptual art. The former, which literally translates as “poor art,” is a key feature of Pistoletto’s The Mirror of Judgement. Rather than using typical (expensive) materials like oil paints and canvas, Pistoletto embraces Arte Povera’s experimental and all-encompassing approach to artistic resources. However, whilst Pistoletto does use “impoverished” materials, such as cardboard, the exhibition’s overall impression is one of intellectual obscurity.
Pistoletto describes the exhibition as the “labyrinth of life” which “brings us in front of the judgement of the mirror”. The wall length mirrors dotted throughout the Serpentine Gallery certainly are very effective. They place the observer inside the artwork, merging the boundaries between reality and representation. In front of many of the mirrors are religious symbols such as an Islamic prayer mat and a sculpted Buddha. Combined with the mirrors these lead to a self-examination of ones relation to the different spiritual groups, clearly linking to the judgemental theme of the exhibition.
When exhibitioners want to recycle the artwork there is definitely a problem.
However, alongside these easily identifiable pieces are objects that are truly puzzling. I could only recognise aluminium funnels as trumpets upon reading the descriptive plaques. And even after reading one description I am still no wiser as to the symbolic meaning behind three black circles suspended from the ceiling. Perhaps most random is the corrugated cardboard maze that surrounds the entire exhibition. Whilst it helps create Pistoletto’s “labyrinth” effect, the actual symbolic meaning of the cardboard and its link to “life” is a mystery to me.
Pistoletto is known for his use of everyday items such as his newspaper ball (Walking Sculpture), which featured in Tate Modern’s 2009 The Long Weekend and significantly increased his popularity in the UK. Yet the cardboard labyrinth is less impressive.
“…why must he be so maddeningly obscure?”
The Serpentine Gallery said the cardboard was a response to the buildings architecture that would “manipulate visitors’ perception of space”. But the “labyrinth” walls are relatively short, meaning not much manipulation takes place as you could see right across it to the gallery’s walls. Comically the cardboard simply led one observer to remark that the exhibition did not seem “eco-friendly”. When exhibitioners want to recycle the artwork there is definitely a problem.
Critic Mark Hudson summarises the The Mirror of Judgement’s main problem: he describes Pistoletto’s work as “richly symbolic,” but quickly asks “why must he be so maddeningly obscure?” There is obviously depth and intellectual purpose to Pistoletto’s exhibition; the objects are screaming with symbolic meaning. Yet this scream unfortunately becomes white noise to a spectator desperately trying to make sense of it all.
The exhibition runs until 17 September 2011.
Admission is free