Palazzo Strozzi to Spotlight U.S. Artists in 2021

A Warhol silkscreen of Jackie Kennedy which will be displayed at the Though American Art show at Palazzo Strozzi

As we all know, 2020 was the year of the unexpected. The COVID-19 health emergency caused us to alter day to day life, from how we go to work to how we celebrate the holidays. Cultural events were no exception: concerts, museum exhibitions, and film festivals all went virtual after being forced to close their doors to the public. Palazzo Strozzi, however, made the best of this program interruption to strengthen the venue’s connection with visitors.

Despite being faced with restrictions which shut exhibition spaces beginning on November 6, 2020, general director Arturo Galansino has big plans for 2021, pandemic permitting. Over the course of the year, Palazzo Strozzi will host two shows, both encompassing modern and contemporary U.S. artists. The first, American Art from 1961-2001, slated to open on March 20, 2021, will survey the evolution of art in the United States in relation to the political and societal events that took place in the given time period. Starting with the presidency of John F. Kennedy and ending in 2001, the year of 9/11, the retrospective will include paintings, sculpture, photography, and video.

Though American Art 1961-2001 spotlights some of the pioneers of modern art like Warhol and Rauchenberg, the exhibition will also include the early work of now established, living artists such as Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall. Both Walker and Marshall are known for depicting subject matter surrounding Black history and racism in America. Galansino mentions how bringing such subjects to light in Italy is incredibly important. “We [Italians] live in a more traditional kind of society. But, in the last decades, we also have to face similar issues. Italy is becoming increasingly international – more diverse and more open in terms of civil rights and attitudes. We want to create an awareness not only about art, but also about what’s going on in the world.”

All of the displays will be on loan from the Minneapolis Walker Art Center, one of America’s first modern art museums, with a collection that dates back to as early as 1940. “We’ve been really fortunate to work with them and present the top selection of their collection in our space,” says Galansino.  But why take such a deep dive into American history? Strozzi has put on two major American art displays in the past: one on 19th century artists in Florence, and one focused on the Solomon and Peggy Guggenheim Collection. American Art 1961-2001 would be the third, which, historically speaking, picks up right where the Peggy Guggenheim Collection show ended. “This is a very ambitious exhibition full of masterpieces of modern art, which are very rarely seen in our country,” Galansino notes.

Palazzo Strozzi’s second event of the year will also be dedicated to American art. Shine, focusing on contemporary work by Jeff Koons, should open on September 23, 2021 and go on until January of next year. Originally scheduled for September 2020, Shine will be the Koons’s largest Italian exhibition to-date, highlighting both his Renaissance inspired sculptures as well as his infamous ‘ready-mades’ (a common and/or mass-produced object that becomes a piece of art).

The name of Koon’s exhibition was inspired by the reflective surfaces of some of his most popular sculptures, such as Rabbit (1986). As stated on Palazzo Strozzi’s website, the decorative quality of the materials Koons uses “is far more than an ornament: it is the very substance of these works,” and together with his commercially inspired subject matter “calls into question our relationship with daily reality and with the very concept of a work of art.”

Though it had to be rescheduled from late 2020, the timeline of the work in Shine overlaps perfectly with that of American Art 1961-2001, as Koons’ career began in the 80s his first solo show taking place at the New Museum in New York City. Since then, he has been exhibited in major art institutions across the globe including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Guggenheim Bilbao. The Duchampian nature of his work – often satirical – has given his reputation a controversial spark, but to Galansino, there is much more to it than enlarged reproductions of mundane objects. “Jeff wants to represent our subconscious desires, physically and also metaphorically,” he says of the artist’s style. “There is also this lingering childlike paradise with these big toys. Yes, they are deep and philosophical, but I think also they could bring a little joy to our time. I look forward to installing this exhibition because it will be an amazing experience to have all these incredible sculptures inside our space.”

Regarding the first lockdown, Strozzi’s first and only exhibition of 2020, Tomás Saraceno’s “Aria” opened on February 22 and closed only two weeks later. Immediately curator Galansino got to work. “We came up with the idea of an online project; we asked ‘what can the museum do now in this impossible moment?’ And we did something possible in an impossible moment – this was our aim,” he says.

On March 11, 2020, the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation launched a digital platform, In Contatto, on their website. Until June 1, 2020, when the museum reopened to the public, Galansino and his team worked together to provide Strozzi’s audience with the best experience they could.  “We came up with the idea of an online project that answered the question of what the museum could do now.” In Contatto featured text, images, video, history, and stories that highlighted the importance of staying connected digitally in these unprecedented times.

When Palazzo Strozzi resumed its in-person schedule in 2020, Galansino attributes much of its success to the action he and his team took during the spring lockdown. “We received a great response. We put everything we offer on a digital platform and it proved to be successful beyond our expectations – for example, our Education Department continued their activity online and had great attendance.”  Over the summer, Palazzo Strozzi saw an upwards of 60,000 visitors, which according to Galansino, is on the lower side given that there were no international tourists. Given the circumstances, however, he was pleased with the turnout. “A number of museums disappeared in 2020, but we succeeded in staying alive.”

Whether it’s online or in person, Galansino’s goal is to keep the mission of Palazzo Strozzi going. “If Florence wants to continue to have important international cultural and touristic resonance, we must have these kinds of events because without them, the city loses a lot,” he says regarding the foundation’s ambitious 2021 exhibition program.  “Our projects are important because our publics want to be part of the Palazzo Strozzi’s vision and research and they like to be educated on the things they don’t know or want to know more.  This is what we do: build an awareness through art about the world.”  (savannah camastro)