From 1979 to 1980 Pistoletto was active in several cities of the United States, with a busy schedule of solo exhibitions, installations and actions that were staged in museums, galleries and public spaces.
At the Rice Museum and de Menil Institute for the Arts in Houston (February-April 1979) he presented a group of Mirror Paintings and a new installation. At the Georgia Museum in Athens (April-May 1979), an exhibition of works made out of pieces of furniture and mirrors (Upside-Down Furniture and Forest of Chairs). At the LACMA-Los Angeles County Museum of Art (December 1979-January 1980) he showed the Minus Objects.
At the University Art Museum in Berkeley (January-March 1980) he presented a group of works and a site-specific installation, all made with rags. For this exhibition G. Celant wrote a presentation entitled “A Firmament of Rags” in which he interpreted the rags as a symbol of social exclusion. In fact Pistoletto said, in an interview conducted by Michael Auping in December 1979 during the preparation of the exhibition, that he had bought or been given many of the rags used on this occasion by homeless people he had encountered in the streets of Berkeley, with their shopping carts full of old clothes.
On January 26, 1980, he put on the performance Venus and the Big Dipper at New Langton Arts, a not-for-profit art space in San Francisco. In the course of the performance he mounted in front of the audience a Venus of the Rags — on this occasion the part of the goddess was played not by the cast of a statue but by Maria Pioppi — and seven Orchestras of Rags, arranged in the pattern of the seven stars that make up the constellation of the Big Dipper.
At the Museum of Modern Art and the Hansen Fuller Golden Gallery in the same city (February-March 1980) he presented two exhibitions centered on works and installations with lightbulbs. For the Clocktower in New York (March-April 1980) he created the installation One Arrow, a large arrow pointing toward a mirror that was constructed out of metal cages stacked one on top of the other and containing rags, earth and bones.
In Atlanta, where he had been invited to show at the High Museum of Art, Pistoletto conducted, in March 1979, a citywide Creative Collaboration. Here the other participants were three people he had already worked with: the theater director and actor Lionello Gennero, a former member of The Zoo, the jazz musician Enrico Rava and the American composer Morton Feldmann. He had collaborated with the latter on the staging of the opera Neither, at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome in June 1977, with a libretto written for the purpose by Samuel Beckett. Together with these three and assisted by Maria Pioppi, Pistoletto organized a hectic program of collaborations with local visual artists and music and drama groups, involving large numbers of people of different ages and backgrounds. This was particularly significant in view of the state of social ferment at the time in this city in the deep south of the United States, still scarred by the segregation abolished in the previous decade. Its recently elected administration, headed for the first time by an African American, Maynard Jackson, was engaged in an intense promotion of artistic activities, characterized both by an interdisciplinary approach and by an attempt to involve the city’s population. This was particularly evident in the case of two places where several of the Creative Collaboration’s activities were carried out, the Forrest Avenue Consortium and the Neighborhood Arts Center, two former schools closed down because of the declining population and turned into arts centers on the initiative of local artists.
The Creative Collaboration continued over the course of the next year in several cities, first in the United States and then in Italy.
During an exhibition of his at the Georgia Museum in Athens, he invited local artists to create works with their families, utilizing only objects and materials they could find in their homes, which were then placed in front of the museum and in other public places. They also made mobile sculptures, fixed to long poles that were carried in procession through the streets of the city.
At the Custom House on Bowling Green in New York, a prestigious building that was used at the time for exhibitions of contemporary art before becoming the seat of the National Museum of the American Indian, he and the poet from Atlanta Terrill Soules created the installation Mirror Poem.
In January 1980, at the Mayfield Mall in Palo Alto, a shopping center, he created a participatory installation called The Penetrable Arrow.
In August 1979, together with Laura Culver and David Head — two artists who had participated in the Creative Collaboration in Atlanta — the musician Enrico Rava, his daughters Cristina, Armona and Pietra and Maria Pioppi, he staged a series of performances in the streets and square of Corniglia in Liguria, including Opera Ah and Sung Sheep, in which a large number of the town’s inhabitants took part. The collaboration was a development of the one that had begun with the previous performance The Trombonauts [I trombonauti] (1978) and would be continued in the successive Year One [Anno Uno] (1981).