michelangelo pistoletto

venus of the rags (michelangelo pistolleto, 1967, 74) photographed by zeno de cock
venus of the rags 1967, 74 (michelangelo pistoletto) photographed by zeno de cock


 “To be a true ecologist [artist] today, one must re-establish the aesthetics of beauty within the realm of human trash and material waste.” –Slavoj Žižek (…maybe Žižek wouldn’t mind the minor alteration.)

Michelangelo Pistoletto pushed together a pile of rags & a statue of Venus in 1967 & 74.  The above photograph is by the Belgian photographer Zeno de Cock from an exhibit in his hometown of Antwerp.  Zeno’s photo captures the immediacy of the profound assemblage.  

Venus of the Rags is redolent of the radical sixties & it is also an icon of Italian Arte Povera.  Arte Povera was young & getting started when Pistoletto created the Venus.  The sculpture speaks to a few key ideas of the style.  Arte Povera is seen as anti-modernist, in that it (ostensibly) rejected the idealistic (high-modern) minimalism of the time.  Conversely, it shared the reductive (minimalist) language that attempted to distill art to its essentials, its elemental basics & the bare minimum (albeit without the assumed sterility of some American minimalism).  Arte Povera (loosely: poor art) was not necessarily an aesthetic of impoverishment, rather it was getting back to essentials—reaching to nature, the mundane, the everyday, even to classical antiquity (thus anticipating post-modernism) & also back to classic art materials (wood, marble & gold among others).

Pistoletto posed a dialectic with the discarded rags & a concrete cast replica of (Bertel Thorvaldsen’s) Venus (with the apple).  Thorvaldsen’s Venus is holding an (unseen) apple & is from the legend “the Judgment of Paris.” The legend is not addressed by Pistoletto, however the goddess of love & beauty (Venus) was awarded the golden apple by Paris (remember too, Paris gave into her irresistible bribe of a beautiful woman).  The significance resides in the symbol of Venus as beauty (ideal beauty).  The rags are from Pistoletto’s studio & were used to clean his signature stainless-steel mirrors.  We know that Pistoletto made several versions of the sculpture, including a live performance & he also made a gold (gilt) version. 

This is an artwork of contrasts & reflection.  We have high art coupled with an upsurge of refuse.  Beauty’s facing rejected trash.  Simple nudity is amidst an overload of used-garments.  Refinement married to disgust.  If we take the sculpture as a metaphor, it is an easy stand-in for our own confrontation with our now omnipresent waste.  Venus of the Rags is a emblem to throw-away culture.  It is as if she’s urging us to consider the aesthetic of decay & how that can inform a new & timely (re)consideration.  Why should we care about our waste?  What is important about the dialectic: beauty vs. trash?

We’ll also recall Pistoletto’s mirrors.  While Venus isn’t looking into a mirror, she is looking at a polarity with which she’s part of. Other sculptures show where Pistoletto has taken classical statuary & positioned it with a real mirror suggesting that the statue were made for this purpose—made for reflection & contemplation. 

Venus of the Rags is dialogue of the present with the ancient, resulting in a new perspective (dare I say a globalizing view) that includes the banal & everyday with the beautiful.  Germano Celant (who coined the term Arte Povera) writes on Pistoletto’s Venus (specifically addressing the rags).  The rags represent: “…the confusion & multivalence of marginalized people, the totalities of random & disparate communities of social rejects…that is the rags of society.”     

Now we’re at another confrontation: the world’s wealthy contrasted with the poor.  Again the artwork assumes a broader relevance.  How do we regard the poor?—or the rich for that matter?  We know these enormous questions need our attention & we know that art can help us see clearly (not only in a strict visual sense), more fundamentally, & then perhaps ethically.  Art positions our problems to be observed, before we can understand them.

It is a great teacher/master who can create a didactic sculpture that is fresh & engaging (40-something years later).  Pistoletto’s “poor art” perennially inspires growth & interaction.  We know that Michelangelo Pistoletto continues to make art & he’s opened a foundation: Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, where he proposes “a new role for the artist: that of placing art in direct interaction with all the areas of human activity which form society.” 


Aurelio Madrid

jörg hillebrand

jörg & prince

Jörg & Aurelio

Aurelio: I’ve drawn you & your stepson: Prince, from one of your photographs.  I want to know if you can give me any background on the image.

 Jörg Hillebrand : …every time I have the opportunity to visit my stepson in Ghana, we stage one welcoming shot, like this one, on the very first night we meet, mostly in a hotel, after he picked me up from the airport and before we continue to travel to our hometown, which is Kumasi, Ghana, the capital of the Ashanti kingdom.

 Sadly, and it nearly broke both our hearts then, Prince was deported from Germany in 2005. I don’t know, whether one day I can take him back. Several efforts failed…

Truth is stranger than fiction, I guess that’s the underlying message here, but we try to turn and twist it our way.

 Aurelio: …wish I understood more of your situation with your step-son.  The tension of the story is somewhat evident in the photo.  I wish you the best & hope you both can triumph in spite of it all!

I also had no idea that another artist had painted this image too!  What a surprise.  It is curious that we both selected this image.  With great respect, if I had known that the Ghanaian gentleman had painted it, I would have gone with a different image.  Now that I know however, I can appreciate that for a strange reason we both did it.  What an odd coincidence?  

I liked the image because it looks like a movie still.  The scene could have a complicated plot behind it.  It does not appear to be the reunion shot that it actually is.  Maybe it is because you’re on the cell phone (sunglasses on & shirt off) & Prince is counting money (in his boxer-shorts).  It is interesting that you say it was staged (in a previous message), I’m wondering how much of what is in the photo was planned.  It looks like a fictional narrative & the facts may be harder than i understand from afar, just looking in.    

 …about your photography, I can’t help saying that I like it very much.  I love it.  The subjects are diverse: the Ghanaian people, industry, the city of Madrid &c. 

Madrid has always felt like a long-lost relative I’ve never met & I’ve seen only in pictures.  I inhabit Madrid in my thoughts.  I’m not usually attracted to the touristy shots of the city & when I found your pictures I was instantly a fan.  The Madrid photos show that you have a strong sense of line, pattern & you like a low saturation (of color) &c. Your eye for architecture is also unique.  The way you photograph architecture feels non-hierarchical, i.e. the mundane buildings are treated with equal respect as the nicer more refined structures.  You seem to be interested in the way the landscape interacts with the buildings.  I am thinking of the shots where the neglected weedy landscape is emphasized in conjunction with the city & environs.  There is a palpable mood of desolation & abandonment.  What was your thinking when you’ve photographed Madrid?  Is any of what I just mentioned intentional?  Do you (or did you) live in the city?  The mundane & banal profoundly feature in most of these beautiful photos.  Madrid looks so dry & kind of melencholy.

madrid jorg

Palomeras Bajas

…Looking at your industrial photos also makes me wonder why they are so extraordinary, perhaps because it is such an unfamiliar sight, not-before seen. 

alcoa jorg

alcoa automotive

The photos you have done in Ghana are in a contrast to the European selections.  The African photos are filled with people & not as much attention is given to the landscape &/or architecture.  Here is a remarkable exception:

kumasi jorg

kumasi [ghana]

(…received the following replies from Jörg (after I posted this), he attached the replies to my Kant-cigarette text-image.)

 Jörg: POINT ONE: Mr. Kant from Germany and Hello to you from Mr. Hillebrand again, and sorry again for not answering your so well put ideas, suggestions and questions…I stopped reading 8 years ago, when I met Prince’s mother here in Germany, don’t ask me why, TV rules since then in the worst sense. Being a German brutalized by Akan/ Ashanti culture has so many aspects to give in, matrimony, weaknesses, hard to tell, the ways of storytelling African life end up in NOLLYWWOD, Nigerian movies within the tradition of storytelling and heritage by wandering theatres from village to village in the olden days getting to VCR in the 70ies….maybe that’s oral/ visual…but definitely not written, back to Mr. Kant and what we Germans are famous for.

POINT TWO: Pagan reality is tempting: I wish I could kill someone for a good reason.

POINT THREE: “It does not appear to be the reunion shot that it actually is….” That´s exactly how this shot was intended…homo,drugs, mafia,diapers and whatsoever…it´s a simple family matter. Here is #2:

 accra new haven

 Accra, New Haven

 I think I smoked them all by now and meet you in Madrid; sorry Mr. Kant won’t be around there and then…it’s all smoke, which gives you another picture.

 That one is on my soul.

a dwarf

 a dwarf, as a giant, on assignment in a small medivial German city. Aufbau Ost

 Please tell me which part of the world you live in?…Jörg


 C. de Estocolmo diptico, San Blas, Madrid, Spain

 …within the same group…still illiterate, nice, send me some books though…I recommend, street is slippery, condoms on the street, don’t read while walking, I had a couple of beers before, large format, be aware…

…your Kant still worries me…he taught me though in a bad translation,” what is not relevant to everyone is of no matter to the individual” and vice versa…and that matters a lot…

(I tried to give you an answer a long time ago, but it got deleted, while I tried to sent it to you, which frustrated very much me then. I appreciated your questions there and answered them to the best of my knowledge, but it got lost in our e-world….I am sorry, you may even add to this to your blog, shit happens and you need to know, that I love your methods.)