Sunday Morning Ramblings – Palazzo Strozzi Florence Italian Fascist Period Art Exhibition

Not all those who wander are lost

– J.R.R. Tolkein

And indeed I was not entirely lost as I wandered the streets of Florence this Sunday morning. I knew I was strolling somewhere between the ancient political centre represented by Piazza della Signoria and the religious one, the focus of which was the magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore – or duomo. Perhaps embarrassingly so for a Tour Guide, that was the extent of my knowledge however. As a ‘Tom-Tom’, which is increasingly becoming my nickname by my tour groups, I would certainly have been of little use. Therefore the enormous arched entrance that opened up on my right suddenly only to reveal itself as the entrance to a famous Florentine landmark I probably ought to have known to be precisely there, was in fact a surprise. On these occasions things tend to just happen and I am only to happy to let them do so.

The 30s Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism

Strolling around semi-lost, like those moments when driving and the GPS onboard navigator shows the little red arrow dithering in a sea of grey, reference points framing the left and right of the screen, but how to reach them unclear, is a favourite pastime of mine when travelling. And you need not be abroad to be travelling like this. Just walk. ‘The beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations’ said Guy Thomas and throughout my career it has been on these ambles with no particular destination in mind that the best experiences have revealed themselves to be lying in wait.

Recently accompanying L to Florence for work, I have more and more frequently had the opportunity to stroll the streets of what after every such occasion leaves a new impression and in doing so edges this city ever closer to the top of the no doubt somewhat pointless ranking of ‘my favourite cities’. These occasions, left to my own devices to entertain myself for three or four hours have become appointments I truly look forward to. I have ‘discovered’ the amazing La Specola Museum with its incredible wax anatomy studies, The Galileo Museum, complete with at least one of the great man’s fingers and on this occasion, my strolling had lead me through the archway of the large, beautiful courtyard of the Strozzi Palace.

The Departure of The Prodigal Son – Alberto Savinio

The Strozzi family was thorn in the side of the ultimately triumphant Medicis (the Strozzi’s were forced into exile before returning to Florence and being absorbed by the Medici ‘dynasty’ through marriage) throughout much of the heyday of Florence from the fourteen to sixteen hundreds. They built their magnificent cube-shaped Palace from 1489 onwards. It is in every sense the perfect example of architectural Renaissance one-upmanship. Two sides more than the Medici Palace, more harmonious and of course larger, the palace incredibly remained the seat of the Strozzi family until 1937. The building has following the end of World War II been considered one of the most important centres of temporary exhibitions and is since 2006 is run by the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi.

Thinking, correctly as it turned out, that a certain local guide, who’s appointment with her private tour had started at that very moment only yards from the magnificent courtyard in which I now found myself, might pop her clients through it, I hovered in the symmetrical shadows of the splendid arches and listened to her as usual fascinating history of the building. The small group moved on, no doubt from this peaceful haven to the throngs clustering round the iconic sites of which this city boasts so many. However, blessed with the fortune of being able to do so, I stayed, bought a ticket and went up the stairs…

Hypnos, God of Sleep – Edward Irvine Halliday

On this day and for several more, one the palace’s three floors above is the home to a much-publicised and indeed commented on – exhibition called, ‘Anni Trenta’ (The 30s – The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism). Why not then, take this chance opportunity to see it? My feet brought me here after all.

Entering, my attention was caught by the rather captivating stare of a woman. A strange almost challenging melancholy look in her eyes, she looked out from the canvas of a painting by Antonio Donghi from 1932. It is an image I suddenly become aware of having seen repeatedly over past weeks when walking the streets of Florence. This exhibition is a big deal. Many shop and restaurant windows carry its poster. Florence welcomed Hitler if not with open arms, then at least with an open top car and cheering crowds in 1938 for a tour its artistic highlights after the country signed its new Racial Laws. If the collective conscience is still not clear then this exhibition undoubtedly has the subtext of moving things along by painting the 1930s in Italy as a ‘cauldron of creativity where rich experiments were taking place’ as Jonathan Jones, writing in The Guardian described it.

The Fascist Ideal? Adolf Ziegler’s Four Elements

I have seen fascist art exhibitions before and they have generally very quickly metamorphosed into little more than displays of overt propaganda. I was expecting the same. This however, was different. As I walked through the first few halls I could not help but start to once again feel extremely ignorant. For one question kept popping into my head as I looked at painting after painting – where was the fascism? For most of the following hour, and certainly until the paintings post 1938 start appearing I simply ‘didn’t get it’. The artists seemed ‘innocent of fascism’ and may indeed have had other things on their mind. The art is varied, sometimes abstract, no doubt of the vein of futurism, but I did not see fascism. I left a little bemused and with more questions than answers (though this is a good thing). It is in fact not until I started my research for this piece that I was reassured by these words from Michael Glover writing in The Independent; ‘ many artists just got on with it’.

I have to say I also didn’t find much of what is on display to be any ‘good’, with a few notable exceptions. A highlight was seeing Adolf Ziegler’s ‘The Four Elements’, the quintessential representation of the female fascist form. Others, Alberto Savinio, Tullio Crali and Halliday are interesting to me. However the majority of these artists, the futurists, who may initially have shown great promise, did indeed inevitably ‘degenerate into just another arm of the fascist state’. Many pieces are winners of the Bergamo prize, which more than anything epitomised art as a component of a fascist society. Jonathan Jones calls describes the exhibition as ‘a depressing bleak journey through the art of a totalitarian state’. But the paintings not being to my liking, does not detract from the experience and the notching up of yet another discovery.

The Stunning 15th C Strozzi Palace Courtyard

Time is up, Lisa has virtually finished her tour. My research is complete. I am in my Florence ‘office’ or even ‘home’, my beloved Gucci cafe. I am one spremuta and a Muller Thurgau to the wind, I have discovered a beautiful building, learned a little more about something I knew very little and fallen further in love with this great city. I am on the last paragraph of what will be the latest addition to 2nd Cup of Tea. Strolling around, quasi-lost this morning has served its purpose if ever a purpose there was. Walking aimlessly has once more worked a treat…

‘I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God’

Bruce Chatwin.

~ by 2ndcupoftea on November 6, 2012.

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