Category: Mapping Contemporary Florence

Triumphs and Laments


William Kentridge, a world-renowned South African artist, has recently constructed a colossal and ephemeral homage to the glories and tragedies of Rome. A 500 meter-long frieze along the embankment walls of the Tiber River (Fiume Tevere) has become one of Rome’s most alluring attractions, for both tourists and locals. Spanning from Ponte Sisto to Ponte Mazzini, this grand masterpiece, entitled “Triumphs and Laments,” encompasses a vast range of historical events, yet also creates a new conversation on modernity and what it means to be a contemporary artist in an ancient setting.

One of the most unique elements of the project is his process. Kentridge created the frieze by utilizing all organic elements, save for stencils. He started with the river’s embankment walls that are blanketed with patina, a dark film of organic build-up. Then against the massive stencils, his team washed the walls with a power-hose, so that once the stencils were removed, the original white travertine stone was unveiled. Read more

Defining Libero

Porcelain Flowers

Libero was the final event for NYU Florences GO Italy! Orientation series. Students were provided a brief introduction into Italian culture and life in Florence at the Cinema Odeon during their first week here. One aspect of Italian culture that was emphasized was the question Where are you from?Most people would answer the country they were born in, or their ethnicity, but Ellyn Toscanowho introduced the speakerspointed out that this question has a different significance to Italians. Where are you from?asks you what your city or region is, and almost immediately people can make guesses about who you are; they can create assumptions about what your mannerisms, characteristics, and beliefs are. Going into the Libero exhibit I thought about this question of Where are you from?How does Ai Weiwei think about place in relation to identity? I wondered why Libero was necessary for all students to view as a follow-up for our global orientation session. What was the relation of identity to Libero?

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Explorations into Plurality


On September 28th, NYU Florence students congregated in front of the Odeon Cinema, abuzz in the air, each of us awaiting the reveal of the Ai Weiwei.Libero exhibit. Before our exclusive tours, we sat down with NYU Art and Public Policy professors Pato Hebert and Hentyle Yapp and art curator Arturo Galansino to discuss the larger implications of Ai weiwei’s work as an art activist. Hentyle Yapp, introduced by Ellyn Toscano–founder of La Pietra Dialogues, spoke succinctly on Ai Weiwei’s previous art works in relation to Chinese history and their respective political motivations. A premier example explained by Hentyle Yapp is Ai Weiwei’s use of repetition.

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Pato Hebert Interview: A Conversation on the Multiplicity of Life

patoPato Hebert sat with me under the Villa Sassetti veranda to soak up the sun and reflect how life led him to where he is now.

  1. You have said: “My sense of family is likewise [referring to his artistry] flexible and complex. My families consist of people related by both blood and choice, and we stretch across languages, desires, continents, class and race.” Can you explain what this quote means to you?

“Yes, it means really what it says. My mom is from Panama, my pops is White from the U.S. My brother married a woman from Tokyo, my nieces and nephews visit their obaa-chan speaking Japanese. We exist in at least three of four different languages. So the language of love and family debate is a multiple language.  So, my sense of love, home and family are multiple. In order to feel like I am me I need that aggregate, the plurality and multiplicity. But I do not romanticize family, it can be full of drama and difficulties even as it is full of magic. [Like the] Black diaspora [it] is not simply at peace but I do not experience it as only in tension.”

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NYU Florence visits Ai Weiwei.Libero at Palazzo Strozzi

Photo by Batel Mann, NYU Florence Student
Photo by Batel Mann, NYU Florence Student

NYU Florence students gathered at the Palazzo Strozzi for a talk on the Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei. The exhibition was curated by Arturo Galansino, Director of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, who joined Pato Hebert and Hentyle Yapp, both contemporary artists and professors of Art and Public Policy at NYU, for a discussion on Ai Weiwei’s work and the significance of bringing his work to Florence. After the talk students were given a private tour at Palazzo Strozzi of Ai Weiwei.Libero, the biggest exhibition of the artist’s work in Italy. Transformed from mundane to imaginative, various objects representative of different events in Weiwei’s life were displayed, including handcuffs and plastic coat-hangers from when he was detained by the Chinese government for 81 days with no charges. The exhibit dealt primarily with Weiwei’s life as a political activist for democracy in China, but students also got to see an exposition of Weiwei’s early work as a photographer in New York. But even here the shadow of Ai Weiwei’s activist life lingered. As the exhibit opened into a side-room, footage from a hidden camera during an informal police hearing about Weiwei’s detention was playing. The exhibit ended at 10:00 p.m.

Ai Weiwei.Libero: A Contemporary Revolutionary

Ai Weiwei
Photo Credits: Alfred Weidinger. Original Source.

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary social and political art activist known to most as the artistic mind behind the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. Described as a “dissident artist with a leading voice”, Ai Weiwei’s upcoming exhibition “Ai Weiwei. Libero” at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi is both a retrospective of his previous works and also an avenue by which to foster new conversation on the ideas of freedom and justice. Much of his work is contentious, forcing together the traditional and the modern while also combating the idea of censorship.

Ai Weiwei is the son of renowned Chinese poet, Ai Qing. Ai Qing was exiled by Mao Zedong’s communist regime in the 1950s for his role as a social critic and for his support of other artists who used their work to denounce the increasingly repressive Chinese government. It is unsurprising, with such a lineage, that Ai Weiwei became a composer of works made to encourage dialogue on topics such as emancipation, modern ‘excessivism’ and corruption. An example of his activism is his work on the Sichuan earthquake scandal. During the news coverage of the devastating Sichuan earthquake that took more than 70,000 lives in Central China, Ai Weiwei found out that almost 5,000 children had perished but had not been officially announced deceased. He galvanised the community to lead an investigation into the lack of government transparency. He worked alongside Chinese activists Tan Zuoren and Xie Yuhui, who published the “Independent Investigative Report by Citizens” that documented evidence revealing government misconduct at the local level and that many schools had faulty architecture making them susceptible to collapse. Ai Weiwei spoke out against the cover-up and created numerous artistic projects to give a voice to the students he believed were ignored by their own government. For his courage he was beaten by police, jailed and then fined millions of dollars. Despite this, Ai Weiwei has never allowed himself to be silenced and continues to be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

His work, branching all over the world, has made many uncomfortable but Ai Weiwei takes pride in the fact that his work impacts and disturbs because it is in this that he sees the true value of art. He seamlessly intertwines the complex political conversations that afflict humanity today within all of his art, using his acclaim as an artist to push forth the values that are meaningful to him.

Check out this interview on Ai Weiwei by Louisiana Channel on Youtube.

For more on the Beijing Stadium check out Telegraph article here.

Renaissance Influences Found in Florentine Contemporary Art

Contemporary art in Florence is often overlooked. Michelangelo, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti – artists of the Renaissance – are names that come to mind when thinking about Florentine art. However, much more than these well-known works can be found. La Pietra Dialogues’ project Mapping Contemporary Florence is devoted to educating the public on the existence of contemporary art in the city.

The latest installment of the series was a dialogue held in Villa La Pietra from 6-8 p.m. on Feb. 3 that brought some of the most important cultural actors in the city to campus, and a gallery art crawl that took place the following evening. Global Liberal Studies senior Andreas Petrossiants moderated the dialogue, which featured art historian and curator Valentina Gensini; art historian, curator and educator Riccardo Lami; curator and art critic Sergio Risaliti, head of the Cultural Department at the City of Florence Tommaso Sacchi; new media artist and educator Justin Randolph Thompson; and art historian Caterina Toschi. Read more

Contemporary, Traditional, Italian Culinary Culture

The Extreme Excellence Project will be showcased at the upcoming EXPO 2015 – Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life – in Milan. The project is coordinated by the Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Crafts and Agriculture with the support of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, the Ministry for Cultural Assets, Activities and Tourism and the Ministry of Environment.

EXPO 2015 will take place from May 1-October 31, 2015.

LPD’s Black Italia series will continue this Spring. The full program will be available soon. Find out more about our Fall 2014 Dialogues on LPD’s Black Italia website, including student reports and photos and videos from the series.

In the World of Video Games, Has the Renaissance Returned?

Bigger city scape
The Soul of the Souless City (New York, an Abstraction) by CRW Nevinson,1920 / Minecraft reconstruction / View of an Ideal City by Piero della Francesca and Luciano Laurana, 1460

The Tate Museum in London has teamed up with the makers of  videogame Minecraft to create a new project called ‘Tate Worlds’, which features a series of illusory ‘minecraft’ worlds inspired by art works in the gallery’s collection. In his article ‘Minecraft at Tate: In Gaming, the Renaissance has Returned‘ published on November 24 in The Guardian, journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones argues that this new project is inspired by some of the principles that underpinned the Renaissance, “Video games have recreated one of art’s oldest impulses.”  Andre Derain’s The Pool of London, 1906 and The Soul of the Souless City (New York, an Abstraction) by CRW Nevinson,1920, the first two paintings featured in the project, are, Jones argues:

“…modernist views of urban space – but under the jarring colours and corners, they conform to the tradition of perspective invented in the Renaissance, which treats the picture as a three-dimensional place. This is the kind of art that comes closest to video games, for Renaissance illusionism was the most sustained attempt to create virtual realities.” Read more