Considering the current political climate in the United States, the knowledge that Barack Obama was President a mere 3 years ago may feel surreal. Despite changes that have taken effect since his term ended, it is curiously easy for people all over the world to instantly recall the imagery that accompanied his campaign. The 2008 red, white, and blue “HOPE” poster with his countenance is indisputably iconic.
Shepard Fairey is the street artist, activist, and graphic designer behind this work, and now his art is on display in Florence. The collection consists of poster-size pieces of human faces, as well as street-art-size, floor-to-ceiling works depicting more abstract patterns. The style is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s — opposing, highly saturated colors in template design. The black walls contrast with each illuminated frame, augmenting the already intense energy of the images.
Among the posters is one almost as emblematic as “HOPE” — the “We the People are Greater than Fear” image. The latter, in contrast to the former, was released at the time of Trump’s inauguration. It depicts a woman staring straight at the viewer, bearing an American flag hijab. Her gaze is direct and unflinching. The portrait is blatantly politically charged. It became symbolic and widespread when it was published, full size, on a page of the Washington Post newspaper, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that funded the endeavor.
It goes without saying that Fairey, a South Carolina native known for clothing line “OBEY,” is, like his art, politically engaged. It was during his time at the Rhode Island School of Design that he began to create street art and stickers as something to share with friends — not something that he expected would gain international momentum. The fact that these images trigger recognition for so many people, all over the world, is not to be undervalued.
Until September 10: HALLELUJAH TOSCANA
Museo degli Innocenti. €9 (including a visit to the museum). Open 10 am – 7 pm, closed Tuesday.
“Hallelujah Toscana” is an exhibition of black and white photographs by Marco Paoli juxtaposed with poetry by Alba Donati. The project is committed to the representation of an aspect of Tuscany that is not frequently noticed in the age of mass tourism, bringing the abandoned, less well-known, and more mysterious facets of the region to the viewer’s attention. Like the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah, the portrayal of the depths of Tuscany is at once sacred and profane.
Anyone who has visited Florence within the past 20 years is no stranger to the mass tourism and commercialism that seems to have pervaded the city, not to mention the hyper digitization that comes with it. It is common to see tourists careening down narrow alleyways, each with iPhone or DSLR camera in hand, photographing everything in sight.
Paoli’s images deviate from this culture, focusing on abandoned and remote areas of Tuscany. The moments in the frame are luminous and still, whether a shot of tree branches or the grimy interior of an abandoned church. The artist manages to convey emotion in the depiction of single moments. One of the most striking captures a deserted psychiatric hospital near Lucca: The stillness of the massive, blindingly bright window, Venetian blinds snagged and destroyed.
Donati’s poetry, reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s with its italicized and sometimes lyrical stanzas, adds another dimension to “Hallelujah Toscana.” Donati is a Tuscan-born-and-raised artist as well, and her affinity for the territory is evident. Her texts, interspersed between the photographs, serve to “open” the images for the viewer, in the words of curator Sergio Risaliti.
It is important to recognize the location that hosts “Hallelujah Toscana.” The Istituto degli Innocenti is one of the most ancient Italian establishments devoted to the care and instruction of young children. At the opening of the show, Arabella Natalini, one of the directors of the Innocenti Museum, spoke about how she hopes it will combine the ancient purpose of the Institution with more modern stories, because, after all, children are both our present and our future. (emma hempstead)
Until October 1: SOUVENIR D’ITALIE
Horne Museum, via dè Benci 7. Open 10 am – 2 pm, closed Wednesday. Admission: €7 full, €5 reduced, free guided tours on Saturdays.
A collection of drawings and paintings by famous visitors to Italy, between the 17th and 19th centuries, is currently displayed at the Horne Museum, featuring painters such as Thomas Little, John Robert Cozens, John Thomas Serres, and Willem van Nieulandt II. The exhibition reveals their perspectives on Italy, through pieces that depict ancient ruins, popular historic landmarks, and natural landscapes of the country.
Most of the artists were English, such as Cozen, who was born in 1752 and worked as a draftsman and painter of romantic, watercolor landscapes. Serres, also English, was a maritime artist born in 1759. He depicted a familiar scene, “View of the Arno by the Ponte alla Carraia.” From the Netherlands came Niedlandt II, whose pen and ink piece illustrates the Santi Giovanni e Paolo church behind the ruins of the Temple of Claudius. The soft ink on paper creates a dreamlike illusion. Londoner Thomas Little’s work emphasizes sharp contrasts and shadows with black chalk, graphite, and white lead with watercolors. All pieces make use of small detail.
Umberto Tombari, the museum’s president, describes the collection as “a core of works that tell how Italy was and, in parallel, how it was seen by travelers who have visited it over time.” A tribute to the beautiful country that inspired so many artists, the show is entitled Souvenir d’Italie, “Souvenirs of Italy.” (nicole grant)