Michelangelo, at the MAXXI

Michelangelo Pistoletto exhibit at the MAXXI

You heard me: Michelangelo has an art exhibit on at the MAXXI. But no, not that Michelangelo. Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Haven't heard of him? In brief, he was one of the major forces behind Italy's Arte Povera movement.* Pistoletto pushed the envelope of conceptual art, making a Venus out of rags and paintings out of mirrors. And then he kept going. Today, he's considered one of the most important Italian artists still living.

After seeing the exhibit (on at the MAXXI, Rome's famed contemporary art museum, until August 15), I have something else to add: Pistoletto is just damn fun. You don't have to "get" 20th-century art to understand what he's going for. Or to like him. That's because his pieces are whimsical. Interactive. Thought-provoking, even for someone who's never thought about contemporary art before.

For Pistoletto aficionados, the show does an excellent job of walking you through his career and his approach to art. With more than 100 pieces, it's also thorough. And it has some of his most famous works, like Globe, the huge ball of newsprint that Pistoletto first rolled through the streets in the 1960s, and still, occasionally, goes for a roll. (Image, below, courtesy of Pistoletto's own website. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed in the MAXXI).Michelangelo Pistoletto's Globe, 1966-1968

Not already a Pistoletto (or contemporary art) aficionado? You'll still be caught up by the "Mirror Paintings" section, which boasts dozens of mirrors painted with life-sized images. Yes, this schtick was one of the things that put Pistoletto on the map. But it's also plain old playful. You can see yourself as part of a Vietnam demonstration, as looking over a balcony with three women, behind prison bars, or, most eerily, with your head in a noose.

Personally, though, I loved his "Minus Objects." Each piece looked relatively simple… but, like the best art of any generation, asked you to look, or think, twice. That large cube standing over there, tied together with string? It's actually six large mirrors tied together. Facing inward. Hence the title: A Cubic Meter of Infinity. Or that odd-looking structure, almost like a railing, but not quite? It is, of course, Structure for Talking Standing Up. The title made me laugh out loud. Because that's exactly what it looks perfect for… and nothing else.

Don't believe me? Here it is. (In the actual exhibit, the man is not included. Nor, unfortunately, are you able to try it out yourself).

Struttura per parlare in piedi, Pistoletto It's true, as the New York Times recently pointed out when reviewing the show's first stop in Philadelphia, that, "It does not inspire confidence that Carlos Basualdo, the museum’s curator of 20th-century art and the show’s organizer, mostly ignores the last 35 years of the artist’s work."

But I have some beef with what the Times calls a nagging question in the exhibit: "Does Mr. Pistoletto’s art, its influence aside, hold up to the test of immediate experience." If a piece of art can make you wonder, inspire you to pull funny faces, can even make you laugh out loud — well, I think that's the whole point.

After all, too much of art, especially contemporary art, seems anything but accessible. Not this.

And for that experience alone, please: Before August 15, head to the MAXXI.

The MAXXI is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from 11am-7pm, and on Thursday and Saturday from 11am-10pm. It costs 11 euros; if you're between the ages of 15 and 26 and you go as a couple (as in two people, no romance necessary), you get 2 tickets for the price of one. The MAXXI is located on Via Guido Reni 4a. For a map, click here.

*And if you haven't heard of that: Arte Povera is, essentially, when 1960s artists started playing with the idea of what materials were needed for art and, therefore, what art really was. It produced whimsical pieces like Giovanni Anselmo's 1968 Structure that Eats, which had vegetables between two stone blocks — the idea being that when the veggies rottied, a block would fall.

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