A key figure in the development of the Arte Povera movement, Michelangelo Pistoletto wrote a chapter in the art history in the second half of the twentieth century, helping to bring Italy to the centre of the international creative scene. As a proof of this extraordinary career the show One and One makes Three, organized as a collateral event of the Venice Biennail and conceived for the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore and for the adjoining spaces, the sacristy, the main choir, the Sala del Capitolo and the Officina dell’Arte Spirituale, it is really a reflection that directly addresses the destiny of humankind and the urgent need for a social change. The exposition offers a summary of the artist’s whole career from his earliest works to today.

(…) Seeing Bacon, I perceived that my problem and my drama were already there, declared, by a man searching for his own dimension and his own space, a cage of impenetrable glass, in which the man lived in such a dramatic state as to be suffocated, to be without a voice or space. The man was blocked, hunted, sick, destroyed, anguished, splendidly painted but, in his state, terribly isolated (...). I continued my search, condensing my work on the man, but attempting to do the opposite of Bacon: to remove all expression and all movement from the figures, so as to cool down the dramatic effect”.

This is the starting point of Pistoletto’s practice that brings him to create the self-portraits and then the mirror paintings. “Since I come from a totally figurative artistic culture, I took up my person as the image to identify. That is why I used the method of the self-portrait, which requires the use of the mirror. The image of myself, depicted life-sized, remains fixed in the painting, while the surrounding background has become a mirror. The world has entered the mirror transformed into a work of art and therefore my self-portrait has become the self-portrait of the world.” In 1962 Pistoletto started to create his Quadri Specchianti (Mirror Paintings): a sheet of stainless steel polished to a mirror finish, onto which was applied an image obtained by means of a photographic transfer technique, which involved tracing a photograph blown up to life size onto tissue paper with the point of a brush (from 1971 onwards, the tissue paper was replaced by a silkscreen process.) In this show we can find also some recent mirror paintings related to Cuba and its people: “(...) starting from Cuba to develop a new idea of politics. This is my belief. From Cuba, at a time of global social pressure and crisis, we can start a new way of enacting our politics. Cuba must not capitulate to the sole model that guides the world, considering the current results. We can transform the world, starting from Cuba. It is a fertile land for experimentation, innovation and change. That is our purpose (...). A cultural, artistic and scientific platform has been consolidated in Cuba, upon which we can generate and help to grow a kind of politics that will lead to renewal of the whole society.” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, May 2015, Havana, Cuba.)

Must see, also with reference to the context that hosts the show, the Sala del Cosiglio, the artwork Il tempo del Giudizio (The Time of Judgment) is configured like a temple that reflects the polytheistic concept, bringing together Judaism, Catholicism, Islamism, and Buddhism within the same space.

The four most widespread religions in the world are prompted to reflect upon themselves in a moment of radical self-confession. Each religion is represented by a symbolic element placed in front of a mirror: a statue of Buddha, a prayer mat facing Mecca, a kneeler. The exception is Judaism, presented as mirrors in the form of the tables of the law. A unifying element is the mirror that reflects the different religions. With this work, Art becomes the catalyst for the meanings of the symbols of religions, positioned in a common space, capable of inspiring a balance between the political and religious conflicts that have woefully befallen the entire world. “Art takes on religion’ means that art actively takes possession of those structures, such as religion, which rule thought; not with a view to replacing them itself, but in order to substitute them with a different interpretative system, a system intended to enhance people’s capacity to exert the functions of their own thought”, declares the artist.

Finally, but it is the starting point of the show, in the centre of the basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, Pistoletto presents Suspended Perimeter – Love Difference, an installation comprising a series of “suspended” mirrors that form a circular space. The work stands as a kind of opposite altar, with the mirrors mediating between the visible and the non-visible, extending vision beyond its normal faculties, expanding the features of the eye and the capacity of the mind, to the point of offering us a view of totality. Installed in a consecrated space devoted to prayer and worship, it acquires a renewed force, opening up reflection on the most delicate issues facing humankind in the contemporary world, such as the conflict between religions, the acceptance of differences, multiculturality, but also the role art can still play in creating common ground for mutual engagement.