Contemporary art in Florence

The Roberto Casamonti Collection

Florence, the cradle of Renaissance, every year attracts millions of visitors because of its medieval and Early Modern art and architecture. Florence is the city of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and the Florentine museums house some of the greatest masterpieces of European modern art, paintings by Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens.

The contemporary art lovers might feel that in Florence they will not find many interesting sights and collections, but it is simply not true! Florence, an art city par excellence, has always been involved in the promotion of contemporary art. Only in the past three years we enjoyed Bill Viola, Ai Weiwei and Marina Abramović’s exhibitions at Palazzo Strozzi. Peter’s Gromley show has just concluded at Uffizi Gallery and at Forte Belvedere you can always find some interesting contemporary art exhibitions organized by the MUS.E association. Currently, until 20 October, you can see there two different shows, Massimo Listri’s “A Perfect Day” and Davide Rivalta’s “My Land”. If you are interested in 20th-century Italian art, instead, you can visit the Museo del Novecento located in Santa Maria Novella square.

Roberto Casamonti Collection

Jannis Kounellis “Untitled”, 1989
Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 1989.

One of the most recent contemporary art collections put on display in Florence is the Collezione Casamonti gathered by a Florentine art dealer, Roberto Casamonti, and exhibited in Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni in Piazza Santa Trinita. This new art gallery was inaugurated last year with the exhibition of the first part of Casamonti’s collection, which featured the artworks from the early 20th century through to the 1960s. In May this year the exhibition changed and for the next twelve months we have a chance to enjoy the show dedicated to the artistic movements from 1960s to our contemporary world.

Roberto Casamonti’s collection represents an important addition to the already rich cultural offer of the Florentine museums. The exhibition features the works by artists whose production would not otherwise be represented in Florence. Now, with the second part of the collection on display we have a unique possibility to admire masterpieces by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alighiero Boetti and other artists from the circle of Arte Povera, works by Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. The exhibition offers an exhaustive overview of artistic schools and movements active in Europe and USA from 1960s until our time.

Arte povera

Alighiero Boetti, Mettere al Mondo il Mondo, 1972-73.
Alighiero Boetti, Mettere al Mondo il Mondo, 1972-73.

Roberto Casamonti gathered his collection during his professional activity as art dealer. His choice of works of art to be purchased for himself always followed his own taste and his idea of art. In some way, walking between the rooms of Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, we not only discover the different art movements, but we meet the collector himself.
Casamonti was particularly fascinated by arte povera, an artistic movement developed in Italy in late 1960s. In fact, all the first part of the collection is dedicated to the production of the artists who, at least at a certain point of their career, engaged with this particular school.

The artists who formed this group wanted to question the idea of an artistic object made of precious materials, such as bronze, marble or gold. They also challenged the traditional division between the media, sculpture and painting. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis and Alighiero Boetti started to produce art using everyday objects and simple materials such as wood, iron, plastic, textiles and steel. At the same time they tried to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture, art and non-art, art and the everyday life. In Casamonti’s Collection you can admire one of Pistoletto’s mirror portraits “Persona in piedi”, Jannis Kounellis “Untitled” composition from 1989 made with wood, iron, stone and oil lamp and Boetti’s gigantic embroidery “Tutto”.

Nouveau Réalisme

César, “La Olivetti”, 1989.
César, La Olivetti, 1989.

If in 1967 in Italy German Celant, art critic and curator, used for the first time the term “arte povera”, in 1960 a group of artists signed the Nouveau Réalisme Manifesto and formed a new artistic movement, which shared certain aims and objectives with which the Italian arte povera. The artists forming the Nouveau Réalisme, Yves Klein, Arman, Christo, Daniel Spoerri, César and others, wanted to revolutionize the idea of art and the concept of work of art itself. At the same time when the Fluxus movement was launched and the performance art started to gain ground, nouveau réalistes started to experiment with the concept of artistic gesture. Christo would start to wrap architectonic monuments creating an ephemeral form of art in the landscape. Yves Klein would “paint” his painting using as brushes the bodies of dancers who imprinted their shapes on canvases during their performances.

The Nouveau Réalism is well represented in Roberto Casamonti’s collection. You can admire here the documentation of Christo’s “The Pont Neuf wrapped”, Yves Klein’s “Marque de feu – empreinte d’un nu (F7)” from 1961 or César’s disassembled typewriter “La Olivetti” from 1989. 

Yves Klein, Marque de feu – empreinte d’un nu (F7), 1961.
Yves Klein, Marque de feu – empreinte d’un nu (F7), 1961.

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Pop Art, Minimal Art, Video Art

After the World War II United States of America, and in particular New York, started to play an always more prominent role on the international artistic scene. Therefore, also in Casamonti’s collection you will find some works created by American artists from 1960s onwards. You will find here some works by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, who represent American Pop Art movement, as well as Sol LeWitt minimalist sculpture “Complex forms no 22”, a white composition of basic geometrical figures, which perfectly represents the ambition of minimal art to reduce sculpture to basic geometric forms, cubic abstractions and neutral surfaces.

The last part of the gallery is dedicated to the most recent expressions of artistic activity. In a little side room you will have a chance to contemplate Bill Viola’s poetic video “The Encounter” from 2012, which invites us to ponder about our relationships, communication and about encounters with the diversity.

Anish Kappor, Untitled (Orange), 2015.
Anish Kappor, Untitled (Orange), 2015.

My favourite work on display is Anish Kapoor’s “Untitled (Orange)” made in 2015. It is a concave orange mirror, which leaves the spectator with a strong impression of visual confusion. From this point of view, this work is quite similar to Brunelleschi’s perspective plates from 1419 aimed at effect of illusion. With this work, just like with the other of his creations, Anish Kapoor questions the idea of reality, truth and existence, showing us that what we see not always is real and that we cannot always trust our senses. That Anish Kapoor’s sculptures confuse our senses is proved also by the accident that happened last year at the Fundação de Serralves, Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, when an Italian visitor fell into Kapoor’s “Descent Into Limbo”. Be careful with the “Untitled (Orange)”!

Undoubtedly, a visit to the Casamonti Foundation is compulsory for all contemporary art lovers during their stay in Florence. I am sure you will enjoy this unique exhibition!

Collezione Roberto Casamonti
Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni
Piazza Santa Trinita, 1

From Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 am – 7:00 pm
Last entrance at 6:30 pm

10 euro – adults
8 euro – children and youths from 6 to 18 years old, over 65, groups of at least 10 people, FAI members
FREE – children under 6,visitors with disabilities and their caretakers, group leaders, journalists, professional tour guides, Firenze Card holders
Audio guide – 5 euro


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