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Michelangelo Pistoletto, The Mirror of Judgement (2011)

September 7, 2011
Michelangelo Pistoletto, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (12 July – 17 September 2011). © 2011 Sebastiano Pellion

On paper, this is a place to come face to face with your greatest fear: a labyrinth in whose depths you will find monuments.pertaining to four major religions.

But the deity or beast you are most likely to meet will be dressed in your clothes and looking back at you from one of the many eponymous mirrors.

In one dead end a prie-dieu offers a chance to kneel and watch yourself observing this piety. But only in theory. Of course you can’t touch the art.

Christian churches do not have many mirrors and with good reason. Watching oneself at prayer is the height of vanity. It is bad enough that others might also watch us.

But perhaps self-consciousness is the very origin of morality. It could be we who sit in judgement on ourselves, and not the gods of Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc.

So far, so clear and demystifying. But there are less finite elements to Pistoletto’s maze. A feature in the entrance/exit is a well-shaft which reflects a circular skylight.

Peering down into this we see ourselves at a distance, fairly small against the slow-drifting clouds in the sky. (It was overcast and rainy on the day of my visit.)

And we look up at ourselves from the depths of this well as if our reflected image could reach down and save us. To save us from what, exactly? Well, hell is also a mirror.

A Charles Darwent review in The Independent puts Pistoletto in his Arte Povera context. Mark Hudson in The Telegraph flags up some interesting biographical details. Laura Cumming in the Guardian praises the works simplicity.

This site specific installation can be seen at Serpentine Gallery until 17 September 2011. See gallery website for more details.

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