Last weekend Firenze was overflowing with visitors – tourists like us – crowding the streets, cafes and trattorias of Centro. Getting into any of the big museums was a major chore. Without a reservation, which had to be made at least 3 days in advance, the wait for the Uffizi was going to be between 2 and 3 hours. So we decided to save that sort of thing for a mid-winter trip when things will be quieter.
However some of the other venues were, blessedly, crowd free: the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which like many buildings is undergoing restoration. Despite the work going on the in the courtyard it was still possible to see the beautiful frescoes of the Magi Chapel. And they have an interactive space to find out more about Gozzoli’s work – sort of a human point and click – very state of the art. Other than that there was the Marble Museum (one very strange bust, but more about that later) and an exhibition by a Chinese artist Yang Maoyuan.
Now Firenze is not a city I immediately associate with modern art – the great Medieval and Renaissance masters yes but modern stuff??????And more particularly modern art in one of the Medici palaces? But the exhibition is very firmly grounded in classical art – or more specifically classical sculptures of busts.
Maoyuan was born in Shanghai in 1966 and currently works and lives in Beijing. His work is the subject of several major exhibitions throughout Europe this year. “Look Inside” is a mixture of western art and eastern sensibilities. He creates sculptures in marble and in some instances bronze based on Greek, Roman and Renaissance models – the most recognizable being Michaelanglo’s David – then he smooths away many of the features leaving only partial faces exposed.
The first gallery held rows of busts from the classical Greek and Roman periods displayed much as they are in all the museums in Italy. At first it was a slightly eerie feeling to see these incomplete faces but also in a way it there was a quiet fascination about the smooth white surfaces that surrounded them.
The second gallery held busts of Greek and Roman philosophers carved in black marble with the smooth surfaces overlaid with highly polished bronze. They did not photograph particularly well and were, for me, the least interesting of the works on display.
I’m sure it is just me but my mind’s eye was filling in the missing bits of the David. But I also realized for the first time that his is not a happy face, not the face of a simple shepherd boy – it is both a determined and a troubled face perhaps foreseeing the tribulations of his future life as King.
Maoyuan also turned his eye to the many visages of the Buddha seen in the East. This forest of Buddhas is almost like a gigantic carton of eggs but each one bore a different aspect of the Holy Man.
I found it a fascinating exhibition but also am wondering if part of that fascination wasn’t intensified by the contrast to the works that are on constant display as you walk through the streets of Firenze.
02 ottobre – Santi Angeli custodi