"Urs Fischer in Florence" at the Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy.
On view September 22, 2017 through January 21, 2018.
Piazza Signoria is once again hosting In Florence, a contemporary art event devised by Fabrizio Moretti and Sergio Risaliti, promoted by the Comune di Firenze, and organized to correllate with the 29th edition of the Biennale Internazionale d’Antiquariato di Firenze. Following in the footsteps of Jeff Koons, Florence’s guest in 2015, the star of this second edition of In Florence 2017 is Urs Fischer, one of the leading artists in the artworld today. The project Big Clay #4 and 2 Tuscan Men—curated by Francesco Bonami—consists, in what has become something of a tradition, of a monumental work of art in Piazza Signoria, staging what is at the very least a thought-provoking contrast between the classic and the contemporary. The event is organized by the Associazione Mus.e.
Urs Fischer rose to fame in 2011 at the 50th edition of the Venice Biennale when he melted a full-size wax copy of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Woman, one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture that has been on display in the Loggia dei Lanzi since 1583. Fischer is now returning to the “scene of the crime” with a new and astonishing artistic project that is bound to trigger strong reactions and a heated debate on the language of contemporary art, on the redefinition of taste, on the development of techniques, and on the concept of beauty, in a thematic and formal “clash of the Titans” between neoclassicism and the contemporary, between ancient and modern, between Bandinelli, Cellini, and Giambologna and Fischer, who for years now has been exploring such issues as imperfection and entropy or the relationship between an artwork and space, between art and the world of the cinema, between daily life, and the artistic imagination with an experimental drive and expressive force as uncustomary as they are astonishing, even as he renews or dares to experiment with techniques and themes without limitations imposed by time, gender or style.
“In recent years,” says Florence Mayor Dario Nardella, “we have been accepting the challenge of international exhibitions specifically devised for our city by the world’s great artists, creating short-circuits and experimental dialogues, including of an unsettling nature, between the classic and the contemporary, between different languages and styles or techniques and materials, with the aim of stimulating people’s curiosity and of revitalising the way they look at things, because very often they are no longer used to searching for something new even in classic art. We must challenge the prejudice and the ideology of convenience, we must enjoy neo-Renaissance artist Urs Fischer’s works with astonishment and surprise. This is a major opportunity for us to continue to pursue with courage and determination the path on which we set out with the Biennale Internazionale dell’Antiquariato two years ago. We are ready to welcome this extraordinary artist’s poetic energy, along with whatever emotions and discussions his works may spark. Florence at this juncture has opened up to contemporary art; now a vibrant workshop, it refuses simply to be a fine showcase, an urban museum. We want to be leading players in today’s life so as to avoid downgrading the golden Renaissance to the status of a mere fossil from the past.”
“Let us look closely at Urs Fischer’s artworks,” urges Sergio Risaliti, “let us look beyond their immediate, spectacular impact. They contain subtle links with the glories of the past, with the familiar and the humdrum, with our first, infantile artistic gesturing, with the sense of art and the sense of our ephemeral existence that makes them at once absolutely heartrending and overwhelming. Fischer is a Swiss visionary, an ironic romantic, cultivated yet down-to-earth. He combines the monumental with the playful, the totemic with the burlesque. He is perfect for the theatre of art and politics that is Piazza Signoria.”
BIAF Secretary General Fabrizio Moretti is thrilled with the whole operation: “Bringing Fischer to Florence is a source of immense satisfaction for me. He is an artist whose work I have always loved for its exquisite genius. We should bear in mind that the Swiss artist is one of the few stars in the firmament of art today! I am fortunate in being able to work closely with such an enlightened mayor, who takes delight in interacting with the contemporary world and thus in taking risks.”
Exhibition curator Francesco Bonami writes: “Urs Fischer is one of the most influential artists of his generation. His output stretches from sculpture to painting and from design to publishing. He is an all-round ‘Renaissance’ artist in a totally new sense. While his work follows the classic paths of contemporary art such as abstraction and figuration, he constantly experiments with new materials and technologies. His research is not an end in itself designed purely for the pleasure of being provocational; it is a tool that he uses to tell new stories. In none of Fischer’s work do material elements, however crucial, play the lead role. That role belongs to the content and the message that his work communicates directly to the observer.”
For the occasion, the Swiss artist (and long-time New York resident) has devised an innovative dual project focusing on sculpture, in view of the historical and artistic urban context that is Piazza Signoria, so overburdened with the marks of history, a fully-fledged Renaissance agora, the nerve centre of republican power which Cosimo I, duke and grand duke of Florence and Tuscany, transformed into a gallery of ancient and modern masterpieces in marble and bronze alike.
Piazza della Signoria will provide the setting for Big Clay, a large metal sculpture (about 12 meters tall) whose shape has something about it that is at once primordial and childlike, totemic and architectural: “The large sculpture entitled Big Clay #4 (2013–14) which is to be hosted in the focal point of Piazza Signoria to interact with the Tower of Arnolfo on Palazzo Vecchio,” explains Bonami, “is only seemingly monumental. In actual fact it is a monument to the simplicity and the primordial nature of the human gesture as its moulds a shape. Closer inspection of the work’s alluminium surface reveals the artist’s fingerprints. The sculpture is an enlargement of small pieces of clay modelled by the artist in his workshop. It is a monument to manuality and to the simplest, most humdrum creative action.”
To complete the project, Fischer will be placing two wax candle sculptures on the Arengario of Palazzo Vecchio, between the reproductions of Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes. The two wax human figures will slowly melt throughout the duration of the exhibition, symbolizing human transience and the lasting quality of art.
The figures will be those of Francesco Bonami and of Fabrizio Moretti, seen by the artist as two citizens of the world whose roots lie in the local territory and its culture, two portraits that become abstract bodies as the wax is consumed. Fischer’s choice of the two figures was based on a study of their features that he conducted in the course of the various meetings that he held with them to prepare this project, because his work invariably contains a biographical element filtered through formal and aesthetic meditation.
The three artworks establish a kind of creative dialogue resulting in a tight debate between the simple gesture of the artisan who, in modelling matter, transforms it into a metal monument—Big Clay #4—and that monument into wax—the two figures—which slowly changes shape and returns to being simple, shapeless matter in a kind of dual process of figurative consumption and retrogression.