FLORENCE, Italy – Walking through Botticellis, Raphaels and Michelangelos at Uffizi Library, one can understandably be surprised to encounter self-portraits by Ethiopian artist Tesfaye Urgessa and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
At a time when museums worldwide are considering how to tell a more holistic story of art, the Uffizi has been slower to catch up, stymied by its legacy as one of the oldest. Europe’s premier dictionaries and by tourists expecting to see history at its greatest. access times.
But since becoming a director in 2015, Eike Schmidt has gradually worked to integrate more contemporary art, to increase the presence of female artists and artists of color, and to reach younger, multi-faceted audiences. more form.
“It used to be very rare for the Uffizi to have contemporary art exhibitions,” Schmidt said in a recent interview at the museum. “It is considered trespassing into these sacred halls.”
“For me, it is very important to dust off the dust,” he added, “and point out what is involved.”
Other Florence museums have joined in similar efforts to broaden their reach, in part by combining the old with the new and by examining historical artworks through the mausoleum. Modern glasses to foster dialogue between genres and eras. Palazzo Strozzi has just closed an exhibition by Jeff Koons and Museo Novecento, dedicated to newer works, is currently showing British painter Jenny Saville.
Changing public perception of art in Florence is not easy, said Arturo Galansino, director of Palazzo Strozzi. “Most people like to see contemporary art,” he said, “In Italy it’s the opposite. People feel more comfortable with the past than with the present.”
This started to change in 2015, says Galasino, when Koons’ gilded steel sculpture “Pluto and Proserpina” installed smack dab in the center of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s medieval town hall, stands among replicas of Donatello and Michelangelo’s masterpieces as part of Florence International Biennale Antique Fair. “It was an iconic moment,” Galansino said.
Koons said he feels welcome by the Florentines and he considers the city an ideal location, “where you immerse yourself in the Renaissance, but you can also have a dialogue with contemporary art.”
“That’s what art does,” he added. “It makes connections from our own situations with others and shows how things are intertwined.”
Not defying traditional expectations for the presentation of classical art, the Uffizi has also attended museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. the Frick in New York, both have rethought the exhibition of old masters against the backdrop of the Brutalist Breuer building on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
Max Hollein, director of the Met, said: “Every artist alive would love to be involved with the Uffizi. “It’s a paradise.”
The Uffizi recently opened an exhibition by one of those living artists, Koen Vanmechelen, a Belgian multidisciplinary artist who focuses on the relationship between nature and culture. The show, “Seduzione” runs until March 20, featuring 30 artworks including a large horned iguana, a crouching red tiger and a recreated Medusa with an open beak and sharp teeth pointed, all of which were explicitly created for the sacred halls of the Uffizi.
While he initially felt out of place in the Uffizi – especially because the art was more dominant in biblical content – Urgessa said in a phone interview that he was greeted by visitors there. and the organization seems to be changing from “something from the past, like pyramids.
“Today, people want to hear about a new story,” he added, “a story related to their lives.”
Schmidt says he’s committed to giving at least two exhibitions a year to female artists. For example, last February, Uffizi presented “Lo Sfregio,” (“The Scar”) a program to protest violence against women by presenting Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s disfigured bust of Costanza Piccolomini Bonarelli along with Ilaria Sagaria’s photo exhibition “Pain is not a privilege”, which depicts victims of the attacks by acid.
With exhibits, the Uffizi is also trying to push the boundaries of European, male, white history. With “On Being Present” in 2020, the museum has discovered Black identity in pictures, such as the wise man in “Eucharistic AdorationAnd portraits of Ethiopian kings in its Giovio Order. The same year, the Uffizi organized an exhibition on women, power and liberation in ancient Rome.
“In a dramatic change from the norm,” said Lisa Marie Browne, executive director of the nonprofit. Friends of the Uffizi Library, Schmidt “has upgraded the Uffizi Gallery from a Renaissance Museum to a renaissance in 2022.”
In its acquisitions, Uffizi branched out, last fall, adding a work by street artist Endless, who donated it and 52 self-portraits by Italian cartoonists to its collection.
With the goal of reaching “as many people as possible”, Schmidt said in a statement at the time, “I believe it will deliver excellent results and will be a precursor to many other ‘crossovers’.”
In redefining what constitutes Uffizi territory, the museum has unbuttoned its collar in an outreach effort, a process accelerated by the ferocity of the pandemic. It starts “Uffizi Diffusi“The program took the work out of memory and sent it to various places in the surrounding Tuscany region in a series of presentations arranged by theme.
Although it didn’t have a website until 2015 – Schmidt has said the museum was “in the stone age” – the Uffizi has become an unlikely social media phenomenon, with nearly 700,000 followers. above Instagram; more than 100,000 over TikTok and nearly 128,000 on Facebook.
It also recently launched a cooking show on YouTube called “Uffizi da Mangiare” (Or “Uffizi on the Plate”) features chefs crafting meals inspired by the pieces in the collection.
Schmidt said he is seeing results; Visitors between the ages of 19 and 25 “more than doubled” in the year leading up to 2020, he said.
Similarly, Galansino says that by showcasing contemporary artists – such as Ai Weiwei and, next fall, Olafur Eliasson – his museum has attracted a new audience, more than 30% of them under 30 years old.
Given such efforts by museums like the Strozzi and Uffizi, as well as Florence’s convenient location between the international hubs of Rome and Milan, Galansino said he is confident that Florence can become “a city” contemporary art”.
“I think we have convinced the public that contemporary art is just as important as the old masters,” says Galansino. “People have lost their perception of Florence as a place to live, but it is still a place to live. It doesn’t just live in the past.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/31/arts/design/uffizi-contemporary-art.html Uffizi Gallery, Base of Tradition, Evolution (Slowly) With Time