In Western civilization, Venus, the Roman goddess of love, is regarded as the ultimate symbol of eternal beauty. In Venus of the rags by Pistoletto, she has become a coarse, greatly enlarged polyester replica of a classical sculpture, at first sight more at home in a garden centre than in a museum.
She turns her back on the observer and faces a colourful pile of rags, as if seeking her reflection in them. The exalted goddess and the raw reality of the rags are presented as each other’s equivalent. Venus has become a naked woman made of plastic. And yet, even here she remains who she is: a symbol of love and beauty, in a contemporary version of an ancient myth.
This Venus has become an icon of arte povera, an Italian art movement from the 60s and 70s in which Pistoletto was one of the leading figures. The use of cheap, everyday materials is one of the characteristics of arte povera. In Pistoletto’s view, everything is ‘good enough’ to be used in art.