Contemporary art in Florence: Clet

“Florence is a city that cannot appreciate contemporary art!”

How many times have we heard this sentence? It is rather difficult to find openings and spaces that can accommodate the most current artistic expressions, installations visual experimentations.

We know how much controversy derived from Jeff Koons’ statue in Piazza della Signoria, or the suggestive atmospheres of the Strozzina, maybe the only contemporary space all over the city. Anyway, it is important to underline how in the 60’s and the 70’s the artistic scene had been imaginative and greatly creative.

Many are the foreign artists who can refine their studies and find inspiration in the Florentine hills or the historical alleys. Ultimately, this is part of the past’ heritage, when, at the end of the ‘800 and beginning of the ‘900, Sargent, Elizabeth Chaplin and others formed an innovative group together with other post macchiaioli painters up until the season of the great artistic vanguards.

In Florence, artist such as Soffici and Primo Conti founded one of the most innovative and surprising magazine “La Voce”. This happened in a period, which was rebelling, to the “Accademia”, to mannerism and to the dusts in museums. Futurism, through the magazine, edited in Florence, was giving provocative and original indications, urging artist to stop “sciacquare I panni in Arno” (rinse clothes in the Arno), but rather to do so in the Seine. This allowed it to become known in a European context, which was already shaken by strong and original movements. Thus, many painters such as Soffici, Severini and Modigliani, moved to the capital, discovering a reality, which had become a crossroad for inspiration and grandeur, where Picasso, Braque, Gres and Matisse were creating a new way of perceiving the world, colors and reality.

With the First World War and the dark years of the Fascist era even this shake was forgotten, and artists put aside those futuristic paintings and resumed the previous order. It was said, then, that artists were caressing the canvases with classis strokes, with small objects in a small world, which had become Italy at that time.

What about today? After the above mentioned and brief excursus, nowadays, we are very far from it. Even the 70’s seemed frozen. Nevertheless, to find the contemporary and modern settings in Florence, we must recall the formidable 70’s and start from there anew. Then move to the excesses and first video installations of the 80’s, where fashion became culture and clubs were trending. Jazz clubs were being opened together with vanguard theatres, giving the whole decade a sense of unstoppable freedom. Here we can find the roots of what today is called street art and, at the time, thanks to the Latin-American influences of Siqueros and Rivera, called murals.

Today, critics have diverging ideas on these works, as they are captured by Banksy’s overboard success. Making him more famous than Leonardo, reaching millionaire listings, equaling at Christie’s record sales together with paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, etc.

Thus, even Florence, strong in its alternative past, has its street artists. Clet Abhram was born in Bretagne in 1966. He arrived in Italy after traditional and conservative experiences in the fields of painting and restauration. Nonetheless, as the artistic world is constantly looking for “provocations”, also Clet decided to abandon paintbrushes and embrace the world of the symbols.

If you walk down the streets of Florence, it is not an illusion when you see on a triangular danger street sign, a little man. Furthermore, when you see on a “no entry sign” a figurine holding up the red bar, or street signs with Pinocchio stickers or other stylized figures on them, even a Crucifixion. Controversies flare up in Florence but as it often happens in places where what to evaluate and what not to is decided, and where the rule is that “speak badly about me, but speak of me anyways” Clet acquires a fame that will lead him in other cities. He leaves behind his detractors and his fans who admire his way of interpreting the coding of signs and his reduction of everything to childish games. Naturally, the limit of these “pieces of art” is that the street signs that are used as canvases cannot be altered. It is a felony. Not even if Michelangelo or Caravaggio were to paint these objects, they would be spared from legal actions. His action panting is also expressed in sculpture where the iconic stick figure initially tries to stay in balance on the Ponte alle Grazie and later on, the City of Signa installed it on Parco dei Renai’s waters. Will Clet resist the time test or will he remain a meteor? It may just be a way of making himself noted or it is perception, unreality, a game of overlapping, which, added to a world overwhelmed by images, loses itself as in a kaleidoscope.


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