We sat down with Andreas Petrossiants of Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi and Strozzina Gallery to talk about the two current exhibitions, his work and research, and contemporary art in the heart of Italy’s Renaissance.
Tell us about the two exhibitions. What are the main ideas and themes behind each one?
We currently have two exhibits at the Palazzo Strozzi; one that opened in mid-March and one that opened in mid-June. The first is called Power and Pathos: The Bronzes of the Hellenistic World, and traces the bronzes of Hellenistic masters. Sculptures come from museums from all over the world: Tunisia, Italy, Vienna and many from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The show was curated in collaboration with the Getty.
I think the curation is done beautifully: it is very innovative – especially for Florence – in the way in which the exhibition space is catered to the viewer. It is very engaging and enjoyable for children as there are different games throughout. In one,The Mystery of the Missing Statue, the base of a Hellenistic statue, with nothing of the original statue left on it but the place where the feet might have been, is placed in the entrance to the show. Children can guess what they believe the statue to have been, they send in their answers, and if they are right they can win a free trip to Athens. Visitors are also encouraged to spend time engaging with the statues, drawing and sketchpads are offered in the entrance. Even though Hellenistic bronzes have been around for over 2000 years, I would say that the Strozzi exhibit makes for a very contemporary experience.
The second exhibition is in the Strozzina – the contemporary gallery. It is called Sculptures Also Die, which I think is a very catchy and relevant title. The exhibition explores human impertinence, especially in the art world of today in which everything is so easily reproduced. It questions the facility with which we can create and recreate objects, and how difficult it is for an artist to be truly original nowadays. The exhibition consists of 11 different artists, each displaying two or three of their pieces. There is a nice contrast between the two – you walk into the courtyard of the beautiful Renaissance, palace to look at the classical bronzes; and then, for the contemporary art you have to go down into what feels like a bunker – it’s a very interesting space, very intimate.
Who are some of your favorite artists in the exhibition?
Oliver Laric, is a German artist, and in my opinion his work is the focal point of the show. He explores the idea of the reproducibility of an image and what that image stands for. In one of his pieces, he digitally edited a music video of Mariah Carey, leaving only her body visible; green screening the rest, and then he uploaded it in an editable format onto Youtube. Very soon Youtube was flooded with new and often funny versions of the video that people had created themselves, by adding different images to the green screen; showing how in today’s world, anyone with minor editing skills can completely alter and change almost any image.
Laric is trying to create a work of art that is a living and breathing thing, completely predicated upon the facilities with which we can transfer information in the internet age. In the Strozzina exhibition, he reproduced the decapitated head of a Hellenistic sculpture using a 3D printer, printing out multiple copies in brightly colored Polyurethane. This plays with the idea of reproducibility and authenticity in the modern world, also connecting the show to the Strozzi Hellenistic exhibition.
My favorite piece in the show is by Danish artist Nina Beier. It is a sculpture/installation piece made up of three different components: a Persian rug from a carpet dealer in Florence forms the base, and 19th-century classical-esque statues from the Pitti Palace (Florence) which are laid on top of a pile of physical Euro bills provided by the Strozzi itself. The three completely unrelated elements are brought together to form the sculpture; but the most interesting aspect is that at the end of the exhibit, the Euro bills are returned to the Strozzi, the statues go back to the Pitti Palace and the rugs are returned to the merchant – everything is borrowed. The art piece only exists as long as the exhibition is open; this plays with the idea and title of the show.
What kind of work have you done for the Strozzi?
I work for the education department, so we work on putting together classes, guided tours and activities for children and students from elementary school to university. We have also done some work with groups of people with Alzheimers. When the Picasso show was up last year I did guided tours in English for Italian students.
A lot of the work I do is research; I started with the Hellenistic Bronzes, doing didactic information for plaques and information for cataloguing. The past few months I’ve mostly been researching for the Strozzina exhibit – looking at the artists and seeing where they lie in terms of the contemporary art world.
What do you find unique about the Palazzo Strozzi, and about these two exhibitions in particular?
The previous director of the Strozzi, Dr. James Bradburne, had a very unique and vivacious approach to exhibiting art, definitely innovative for Florence. As one of my coworkers put it: he didn’t necessarily revolutionize the kind of art that was exhibited, but he changed the way in which the exhibit plays with the spectator.
The Strozzina has been around since 2007 and is a haven for contemporary art in a very Renaissance city like Florence. I think that these two exhibitions complement each other beautifully; while the Hellenistic bronzes take ancient art and show it in a new way, the Strozzina takes a look at the impertinence and fleeting nature of contemporary art. The title itself: Sculptures Also Die raises the question of how long an art piece remains relevant and important; which is depicted perfectly in Beier’s piece that only exists as long as the spectator is in the space to see it.
This makes a very astute point about the fact that art is a very contemporary affair, and if you are looking at something that is antiquated and old you have to look at it through a certain lens in order to grasp anything new. After all, the research I did for the Hellenistic Bronzes has been going on for hundreds of years, whereas the research I did for the Strozzina consisted mostly of blog articles and Youtube videos that have been published in the last couple of weeks, the oldest thing I looked at was from 2011, maybe 2007.
The two exhibits play very well together and it makes for an amazing experience, I think that the best way to see the either exhibit is to see both in succession – it doesn’t matter which one you do first!
Naomi Lubash is a second-year Art History and Italian Studies student at NYU and is currently spending a year in Florence, following her love for Renaissance painting. She comes home to Tel Aviv, and is very much interested in the contemporary art scene. She herself paints whenever she gets the chance, you can check out her own art on her Instagram page: naomilubash.
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