Pardon our dust while we update this corner of the website.

Art’s Responsibility—Artist as Sponsor of Thought

— Michelangelo Pistoletto, July 2010

Michelangelo Pistoletto leading a discussion
Michelangelo Pistoletto leading a discussion on Progetto Arte in his sculpture master class at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, c. 1997. © University Archive of the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna
When I started teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1992, I wrote a brief text to communicate to the students the basic ideas from which I would develop, with them, the course of study and research. I think it is useful to describe those motivations as an introduction to the activities I then gradually developed in Biella, Italy, in a restored industrial building complex that I named “Cittadellarte.” Passages from that text resulted in the 1994 Progetto Arte (Project Art) manifesto, which became the basis for the guiding thought behind Cittadellarte itself.

Art is responsible for establishing new principles of a harmonious relationship that involves aesthetics and common ethics, a harmony that leads all the elements that compose the social structure back to a “classical” proportion.

Art must reveal the possibility of determining the values of a vast equilibrium, emerging from the long “romantic” vicissitudes of progressivism.

Art is responsible for a new philosophy based on the comprehension of opposite poles, such as the absolute and the relative. This philosophy corresponds to a different way of conceiving both phenomenological dynamics and fideistic immobility.

Art is responsible for taking on the role of a fundamental proposition of thought, namely being the spiritual foundation that informs common existence according to a global concept of being.

Art is responsible for revealing the contrast between advanced technology and ancient dogmatic systems, producing a new way of seeing within consciousness.

Art is the primary expression of human creativity, thus the constant reference for every structural, technical, economic, and behavioral activity of society.

Art must go beyond the limitation of the object, of the so-called artistic product (while considering it to be of fundamental importance), in order to be active in every situation and place of planetary life.

Art must bring its unique perceptual sensibility to every system, whether productive, organizational, or political, to carry out the “composition” of the various parts, understood as harmonious elements of the civil concert. The lack of this sensibility is the cause of the sclerosis of every individual organism.

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums—they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level, from that of the “masses” to that of “command.”

Between 1992 and 1994, the French director Pierre Coulibeuf created a film that documents my work from this period. In one sequence, filmed inside the space that is now known as Cittadellarte, I stated: My legacy will be an empty space. I was referring not only to the physical space, which was still empty at that point, but to an ideal space symbolically represented by Cittadellarte.

In fact, by “empty” I meant the boundless container that is the mirror, which is always filled virtually by every existing thing.

Thus Cittadellarte was born, as a platform that mirrors what society presents and reflects.

Divisione e moltiplicazione dello specchio
Divisione e moltiplicazione dello specchio (Division and Multiplication of the Mirror), 1975 and 1975–78, by Michelangelo Pistoletto. Photographs by Paolo Pellion di Persano
The reference to the mirror obviously evokes my mirror paintings [on view in the Museum’s Dorrance Galleries, November 2, 2010–January 16, 2011]. But there is an even more specific relationship between Cittadellarte and the mirror through some of the works I created in the 1970s entitled Divisione e moltiplicazione dello specchio (Division and Multiplication of the Mirror) (right). These works emerged from the specific action of cutting a mirror in half. Each division generates two mirrors, and these then initiate a multiplication of mirrors that reflect each other in succession, reproducing within themselves to the point of infinite numeration.

In similar fashion a biological cell divides in two, initiating the progressive cellular multiplication that concludes in the formation of a body.

The mirror, physically distinct in addition to being populated with all the images of reality, is articulated in itself so that it re-proposes the generative system of nature. Cittadellarte, initially conceived as a primary nucleus, is divided into two parts that are in turn divided, continuously subdividing and gradually generating a small cosmos of nuclei, among which a tension of magnetic and gravitational fields develops.

And this is how Cittadellarte takes shape, reproducing the structural systems of nature, in both a biological and a cosmic sense.

In the ideal representation of Cittadellarte, each of these cells or nuclei, however one wishes to refer to them, takes the name of a sector of social life, and these sectors in turn are subdivided into sections, forming innumerable points that constellate the firmament of everyday civil life.

It seems to me that with this vision, art might rediscover its universal compresence! Thus Cittadellarte has taken shape proceeding with the identifi cation of different nuclei, each of which has been assigned a name corresponding to a sector of the social fabric. In their totality these nuclei have taken the name Uffizi (loosely translated as “Offices”). The following Uffizi have been established: Art, Education, Ecology, Politics, Economics, Spirituality, Production, Nutrition, Communication, Architecture, and Fashion.

Pistoletto and children
Pistoletto and children during Terzo Paradiso (Third Paradise), curated by the Education departments of Cittadellarte and Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art in collaboration with CiAL—National Consortium for Recovery and Recycling of Aluminum. Photograph by P. Zanini courtesy of Cittadellarte- Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy
Due to space limitations, I will attempt to be basic and concise in describing the activities of each ufficio (office). But first of all I think it is necessary to indicate the fundamental mission communicated in the publications regarding the Uffizi and their totality: "to inspire and produce responsible change in society through creative ideas and projects." As one will be able to ascertain from my description, each ufficio finds validation in a principal project that clearly expresses its goals.

I shall begin with the Art Office: its principal project consists of an annual exhibition, Arte al centro di una trasformazione sociale responsabile (Art at the center of responsible social transformation), first held in 1998. This exhibition is connected to the Minimum Prize, an award assigned to people, groups, companies, or foundations that set up initiatives inherent to sustainable change in society. Obviously this ufficio is actively involved with every other nucleus.

The Education Office was also established in 1998 with UNIDEE Università delle Idee (University of Ideas), which welcomes young recent graduates in various disciplines from around the world. Selected through a curriculum and a project that reveal their attitudes, they participate in a five-month residency that includes lectures by instructors and experts in various fields, from art to economics, from politics to communications, from spirituality to social sciences. There are international meetings, practical laboratories, and activities tied to the region. Food and lodging are provided. During the year the Education Office organizes specific courses dedicated to the relationship between art and productive activity. These include Nurope Università Nomade (Nomadic University).

The Teaching Office is an offshoot of the Education Office and is concerned with children’s education and the development of new teaching methods based on the premises of the Montessori method. Artistic creativity is emphasized, including the establishment of teaching laboratories for schools and for the preparation of teachers.

The Ecology Office is also involved with education and, with the Re Mida-Biella (King Midas-Biella) project, focuses specifically on “recycling.” It promotes a new way of thinking about ecology through the appreciation of industrial scrap items as objects that can be used for a creative experience that respects the environment. All the other Uffizi, however, simultaneously share the concept of eco-sustainability.

In 2002 the Politics Office began an art movement for inter-Mediterranean politics known as “Love Difference.” The goal is to create cultural meetings in various Mediterranean countries, seeking to transform violent conflict among different ethnic groups, economies, religions, and political factions into the possibility of peaceful coexistence. In 2008, Love Difference created the Mediterranean Cultural Parliament in Strasbourg in order to expand opportunities for encounter and exchange that were already actively supported.

The Economics Office immediately took the name Banca dei Valori Umani (Bank of Human Values), developing research intended to shape a socially responsible economy.

The Spirituality Office expresses its identity through the Luogo di raccoglimento multiconfessionale e laico (Place for multi-confessional and laic gathering), which I envisaged and opened in 2000 for the Paoli Calmettes Oncology Institute in Marseille, France. This office is engaged in the development of an ethical dimension based on the laic spirituality of art.

Pistoletto’s Love Difference Tables (2003–07) during the exhibition Voltjeti Razlike/ Love differences, Society House of the Croatian Artists, Zagreb, Croatia. Photograph by D. Fabijanic


“Love Difference” Workshop
“Love Difference” workshop for the World Summit on the Information Society, Palazzo Dar Bach Hamba, Tunis, Tunisia. Photograph by F. Fabbrica
The Production Office has adopted the slogan “Ogni prodotto assume responsabilità sociale” (“Every product assumes social responsibility”). Following this principle, it has established advisory and collaborative relationships with businesses in various production sectors. With the project Cubi in Movimento (Cubes in Motion), it began a direct collaboration among artists, craftspeople, and manufacturers in various regions of Italy.

The Nutrition Office started the Km.0 system, a direct distribution chain between producer and consumer, applied in the nourishment of Cittadellarte and in its store. In addition it has opened an in-house fruit and vegetable market that is also patronized by inhabitants of the region.

Since 1992 the Communication Office has published the Journal Progetto Arte, which annually documents all of Cittadellarte’s activities. It is involved with Internet and Press Office communications, publishing ventures, and the Foundation archive.

Cittadellarte Store ( in Biella, Italy. Photograph by Enrico Amici courtesy of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy
The Architecture Office has given rise to N.O.V.A. CIVITAS Nuovi Organismi di Vita Abitativa (New Organisms of Residential Life), which restores, designs, and constructs buildings using totally eco-sustainable methods; it also markets natural building materials.

The Fashion Office has generated Cittadellarte Fashion B.E.S.T. Bio Ethical Sustainable Trend, a platform for more than fifty Italian manufacturers that produce eco-sustainable textiles and yarns. It also has started to manufacture “items” conceived by fashion designers who use these materials.

Many people have presented me with questions: How are the various Uffizi coordinated, and what is the relationship between Cittadellarte and other institutions? How does the Cittadellarte Foundation support itself economically? And finally I am presented with a basic question: Why should art concern itself with all these things? I shall attempt to respond briefly to these legitimate questions. All the Uffizi-nuclei operate according to shared principles and goals, and they develop interrelated research. Technically, Cittadellarte has a central administration that is connected, through various corporate systems, with the specific administrations of the various Uffizi.

Cittadellarte’s Cafeteria
Cittadellarte’s Cafeteria—Glocal Restaurant, Biella, Italy. Photograph by M. Rafaniello courtesy of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy
Through Love Difference, the Political Office has implemented a series of meetings called Metodi (Methods), which function to create a cohesive force within Cittadellarte and a fruitful collaboration with other institutions that have similar goals. In addition to the people in charge of the various Uffizi, participants include artists, sociologists, political figures, economists, philosophers, and educators, who exchange their experiences in researching methods for advancing the transformation of society in a cohesive and practical manner and in accordance with the operational methods that each person or group or entity employs. The laboratory, which has been in operation for some years as part of the Metodi, incorporates ideas and how they are applied to forms. Discussion and comparison lead to an enhancement of the practical possibilities that are necessary for developing and managing a change in the paradigms that govern society.

Opening of Cittadellarte Fashion
Opening of Cittadellarte Fashion, B.E.S.T Bio Ethical Sustainable Trend, on September 22, 2009. Photograph by Enrico Amici courtesy of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy

The results are used in a wider framework, outside Cittadellarte, and, at the same time, are practiced within it. Thus an organizational “polis” is developed that is inherent to every specific case but also articulated with every other segment of the general context.

In terms of finances, the cultural activities of the foundation are supported by contributions from the Piedmont region, with which it has an arrangement, and by private and public fellowships set aside for UNIDEE Università delle Idee.

Each of the Uffizi is supported by its own initiatives, and indeed the cultural ideal is not limited to the formulation of ideas but is realized through activities that put these very ideals into practice and produce economic returns.

I shall respond as concisely as possible to the final and at the same time primary question: why art should concern itself with all this?

Porta-Segno Arte (Door-Segno Arte)
Porta-Segno Arte (Door-Segno Arte), 1976-97, by Michelangelo Pistoletto (Cittadellarte- Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy). Photograph by J. E. Sandoval
In 1976 I conceived Segno arte (Art Sign), a geometric form that schematizes a human body, at full scale, with the arms raised and open and the legs spread. It is a symbol that connects back to classical—Roman and Renaissance—cultures. My Segno arte modifies, updates, and, above all, reproportions Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man figure study, which was based on writings by the classical Roman architect Vitruvius.

I simply made two triangles identical in terms of their form and dimension: one delineates the space between the standing figure’s legs, the other the space between the raised and open arms. The human figure thus appears perfectly balanced: the lower portion mirrors the upper, the left half mirrors the right, even when divided crosswise, maintaining the navel as the crucial center. In Leonardo’s drawing, instead, there is an obvious incongruence between the upper triangle formed between the arms and the lower one delineated between the legs, and thus the disproportion between the parts is clearly visible. The difference between Leonardo’s man and the person contained in my Segno arte consists in the fact that the Renaissance artist forced the human body into a pre-established geometric structure (attempting to square the circle), while my geometric form is defined beginning with the human body. Moreover, and significantly, I have replaced the male figure with a female. This is because the mark of the umbilicus, central in Segno arte, is the symbol of life that each person bears, impressed into his or her body, and this natural marking links humanity to the woman through the umbilical cord, which is cut at every birth.

This Segno arte constructed on the proportions of the person is in itself my basic project, which is translated into practical and operational reality with the activity of Cittadellarte. Segno arte puts the person at the center of society as a symbol of new equilibrium. Looking at socioeconomic statistics, we understand how far we are from this balanced relationship. In fact we derive an image of human society that can be represented as a misshapen body made from two triangles, a smaller one above, a bit like a head, where wealth and power are concentrated, and the other triangle progressively enlarged downward, where misery and degradation extend.

For me, trying to have the extended body of society correspond to the balanced and proportioned body of the person means working toward the realization of a work of art.

Headquarters of Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy. Photograph by Enrico Amici