Uffizi Gallery, Fortress of Tradition, Evolving Over Time (Slowly)

FLORENCE, Italy — Passing Botticellis, Raphaels, and Michelangelos Uffizi GalleryYou might be understandably surprised to come across self-portraits by Ethiopian artist Tesfaye Urgessa and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

At a time when museums around the world are exploring how to tell a more inclusive story about art, the Uffizi has been slower to catch up, hampered by its legacy as one of Europe’s premier classical museums and tourists expecting to see the largest museum in history. hits.

But since becoming director in 2015, Eike Schmidt has gradually sought to integrate more contemporary art, increase the presence of female artists and artists of color, and reach a younger, more diverse audience.

“In the past, the Uffizi had very rare contemporary art exhibitions,” Schmidt said in a recent interview at the museum. “This was seen as trespassing in the hallowed halls.”

“It was very important for me to get rid of the dust and show what was relevant,” he added.

Other Florence museums have made similar efforts to broaden their reach, in part by juxtaposing the old with the new, and by looking at historical artworks through a modern lens to encourage dialogue between genres and eras. Palazzo Strozzi has just closed a Jeff Koons exhibition, and the Museo Novecento, dedicated to more recent works currently showing British painter Jenny Saville.

Arturo Galansino, director of Palazzo Strozzi, said that it is not easy to change the public’s perception of art in Florence. “Most people prefer to see contemporary art,” he said. “In Italy the opposite happened. People felt more comfortable than in the past.”

Galansino said that Koons’ gilded steel sculpture “Pluto and Proserpina” started to change in 2015. was established Standing in the center of Florence’s medieval town hall, Palazzo Vecchio, among replicas of masterpieces by Donatello and Michelangelo, Florence International Biennale Antiques Fair. “It was a symbolic moment,” Galansino said.

Koons said he was welcomed by Florentines and saw the city as an ideal place, “a place where you can immerse yourself in the Renaissance but also engage in dialogue with contemporary art.”

“Art does that,” he added. “It connects with others from our own situations and shows how everything intertwines.”

The Uffizi has also participated in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, subverting traditional expectations of how classical art is presented. Frick Both rethought the old masters display in the context of the Brutalist Breuer building on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

“Any artist alive would love to associate with the Uffizi,” said Max Hollein, director of the Met. “This is paradise.”

The Uffizi recently opened an exhibition by one of the living artists, Koen Vanmechelen, a multidisciplinary Belgian artist that focuses on the relationship between nature and culture. The “Seduzione” exhibition, which runs until 20 March, features 30 artworks, all specially created for the Uffizi’s sacred halls, including colossal horned iguanas, a crouching red tiger, and a redesigned Medusa with open beaks and sharp teeth on top. taking. .

The museum has also recently featured shows by living artists such as British sculptors. Anthony Gormley, Arte Povera figure Giuseppe Penone and UrgessaHis work focuses on social criticism, race and identity politics.

While she may feel alien at the Uffizi at first—especially given the preponderance of art to biblical content—Urgessa said in a phone call that she was welcomed by visitors there and said the institution “made something from the past, like the pyramids.

“People nowadays want to hear a new story,” he added, “a story about their life.”

Schmidt said she is determined to dedicate at least two exhibitions a year to women artists. For example, last February, the Uffizi presented “Lo Sfregio” (“Skar”). A demonstration that takes a stance against violence against women Presenting Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s disfigured bust of Costanza Piccolomini Bonarelli next to Ilaria Sagaria’s photo exhibition “Pain is not a privilege” depicting the victims of acid attacks.

With exhibitions, the Uffizi also tries to transcend the boundaries of its white, male, Eurocentric history. Museum discovered with “On Being Present” in 2020 black identity In paintings like Dürer’s “The Wise Man”adoration of the magi” and portraits of Ethiopian kings in the Giovio Series. That same year, the Uffizi opened an exhibition on women, power and emancipation in ancient Rome.

“It’s in a dramatic shift from the norm,” said Lisa Marie Browne, executive director of the nonprofit. Friends of the Uffizi GallerySchmidt “transformed the Uffizi Gallery from a Renaissance Museum to a renaissance in 2022.”

In their acquisition, the Uffizi branched out, adding a study last fall. Street artist 52 self-portraits by Endless and Italian comics artists who donated it to his collection.

With the goal of reaching “as many people as possible”, Schmidt said at the time, “I believe this will have great results and will be a precursor to many other ‘gateways’.”

By redefining what constitutes the Uffizi district, the museum unraveled in its outreach efforts, a process accelerated by the imperatives of the pandemic. started”Uffizi MessThe program that pulls art out of storage and sends it to various locations in the surrounding Tuscany region in a series of thematically arranged presentations.

Although it didn’t have a website until 2015 – Schmidt said, the museum was in the “Stone Age” – the Uffizi has become an unlikely social media phenomenon with nearly 700,000 followers. Instagram; more than 100,000 TikTok and nearly 128,000 on Facebook.

She has also recently launched a YouTube cooking show called “.Uffizi da Mangiare” (or “Uffizi on a Plate”) features chefs making dishes inspired by the works in the collection.

Schmidt said he saw the results; He said visitors between the ages of 19 and 25 had “more than doubled” in the year through 2020.

Similarly, Galansino said his museum is attracting a new audience, more than 30 percent of whom are under the age of 30, by showing contemporary artists such as Ai Weiwei and next fall Olafur Eliasson.

Given such efforts by museums like the Strozzi and the Uffizi, and Florence’s convenient location between the cosmopolitan centers of Rome and Milan, Galansino said he is convinced Florence can become a “contemporary art city.”

“I think we convinced the public that contemporary art is just as important as the old masters,” Galansino said. “They lost the perception that Florence is a living place, but it’s still a living place. It’s not just living in the past.”

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