In Naples, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s ‘Venus of the Rags’ Will Rise Again

Funded by the artist, a replacement installation will go on view in the city's Town Hall square at the beginning of next year.

Earlier this year, a monumental work by one of Italy’s most well-known living artists was reduced to a scorched frame when it became the target of an arson attack in Naples. But Venus of Rags will rise from the ashes, according to an Oct. 27 announcement from the municipality, thanks to Michelangelo Pistoletto’s pledge to reconstruct the work at his own expense.

Large installation depicting sculpture of woman towering over mountain of rags
A view of the original installation before its destruction. Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pistoletto, 90, created his first iteration of Venus of Rags in 1967. The installation’s depiction of the Roman Goddess of Love towering over a mountain of colorful fabric scraps has since been replicated by the artist in materials like gold, concrete and plaster. Examples of the work can be found in several museum collections, including those of the Tate Modern and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The most recent iteration, which measured in at a towering thirty-eight feet tall, had only been in Naples’s Piazza del Municipio for two weeks before it was incinerated on July 12. Its installation was part of a local initiative to revitalize the city’s public areas. “We will redo this installation because it is a symbol of regeneration that cannot be stopped by vandalism,” said Gaetano Manfredi, the mayor of Naples, in a statement at the time, pledging to launch a crowdfunding campaign named “Rebuild it!” to recreate the work.

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The reconstructed version will be re-installed in the Piazza del Municipio in January of 2024, where it will be displayed for four months before Pistoletto donates the work to the city Naples. Funds from the crowdfunding campaign will be put toward two local organizations working to aid incarcerated women and people with intellectual disabilities. Pisoletto’s gesture demonstrates that “sometimes, art can achieve its most deepest and most political objectives when it lives beyond itself and spreads into reality, into our lives,” according to a statement from Vincenzo Trione, curator of the city’s art initiative.

Caution fence placed around large metal structure
The charred remains of the installation, which was destroyed in July. Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images

Who is Michelangelo Pistoletto?

Works by Pistoletto, who was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale two decades ago, continue to adorn museum collections around the globe. The artist is also the founder of the Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, a creative lab in his hometown of Biella, Italy, which participates in projects like the Visible Award, given biannually to artists working on socially engaged works.

He first rose to prominence in the 1960s with his mirror paintings, which featured life-sized figures and aimed to reflect viewers and their current environment. The artist, who has also dabbled in performance and theater art, is best known for his involvement in Arte Povera, an Italian art movement that translates to “poor art” and emerged in the sixties in response to Pop Art. Rebelling against consumerism, Arte Povera artists used cheap and mundane materials like textiles, coal and even vegetables.

For Pistoletto, those materials also included rags—his initial iteration of Venus of Rags was created with scraps of cloth the artist used to clean his mirror works. While the work has long been considered as a message on sustainability, the recent arson attack in Naples and the installation’s replacement have given the work’s themes a whole new dimension. “Venus did not annihilate itself, but was regenerated in the same place,” said the artist in a statement. “An episode of degeneration occurred which triggered important dynamics of reflection and discussion on the devastation of today.”

In Naples, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s ‘Venus of the Rags’ Will Rise Again