Walking near the Cathedral de Santa Maria Fuore, one sees a long line of portrait and landscape painters, selling sketches of Jennifer Aniston and Tom Cruise, portraits of tourists, and acrylics in the flavor of the classic Florentine artists. Walk a little further and you can find several stands to buy reproductions of a Michelangelo or a postcard with a Botticelli. It’s what Florence thrives off of: the art of the past, the art of its golden age – the Renaissance. If contemporary art is what thrives in the present, than this is what is "contemporary" in Florence.
Yet there are artists that want to change that. Last week, “controversial and eclectic artist,” Pep Marchegiani sent an “open letter” to Florence mayor Matteo Renzi proposing that he do something to instigate a revitalization of what is “new” in his city’s artistic scene, as he is “too tied to the art of the past, and deaf to the contemporary.” Marchegiani is pushing for Renzi to endow the city of the Renaissance with a new asylum for contemporary artists. And this “letter” was in the form of a very well-endowed modification of Michelangelo’s David:
Observers of the piece have had mixed reactions. Some say Marcheigiani’s David is “disgusting” or “vulgar” and deserves no media attention whatsoever. Others admire its boldness, like one Florentine who says that although the statue is “provocative,” it may be “more creative and meaningful than the tacky aprons sold at the night market, or the keyrings available at the souvenir stalls across the road from SMN train station.” Many support the piece mainly because of the message that lies behind it. And either way, Marchegiani’s piece has made some sort of statement about the city's art scene, asking persons like Renzi to consider a new "Renaissance" in the future.
Compared to Andy Warhol, and labeled as a Pop artist by art critic Anna Guidi Baskets, Marchegiani’s art uses cultural icons in mostly lewd and disturbing manners: the Dalai Lama holding a pistol to his temple; a clown-faced Berlusconi holding a human heart; a nude Queen Elizabeth fondling her breasts, smiling insidiously. What’s “Pop” for Marchegiani is merely an extension of what Warhol found contemporary of his time — and he’s reaching back a little further than Warhol ever did. But the question is: Is this type of art able to mix with the classicism of Florence?
Extending the “characteristics” of Michelangelo’s David, Marchegiani is taking the cultural icon with Biblical roots and enlarging the public’s conception of what “high art” should be. What his phallic statement seems to say is that Florence simply needs to grow its naturally aesthetic environment and make room for new Michelangelos and Giottos, like Marchegiani and similar pop artists (e.g. CLET). Suggestions like these that can move the once-leader-of-the-world-in-art closer to that of Milan or Paris in modern consciousness. There is some prospect for the city, as writer Francesco Sala says that this stagnation in Florence “is a paradox given the potential.”
Check out Pep's website for examples of his work.