‘Contemporary’ is not a word we tend to associate with Florence, but recently this very old town has been presenting a decidedly new face in some of its main outdoor spaces, with installations by key living artists like Jeff Koons and Jan Fabre being showcased. “There’s an awareness on the part of the city government that these things get people talking and spark interest,” says Arabella Natalini, artistic director of Tusciaelecta, an initiative attracting international artists to exhibit in Florence and the surrounding countryside. Indeed, Mayor Nardella announced that he is making it a priority of his administration.
Of particular appeal to avant-garde art lovers this season is the major retrospective on China’s most famous art export, enfant terrible Ai Weiwei, on at Palazzo Strozzi from 23 September 2016 to 22 January 2017. The artist’s concern with the ties between past and present could not be more fitting in a city grappling with this issue on a daily basis. For the first time, the Strozzi has dedicated its main exhibition space to a 21st-century artist – normally the purview of its little sister downstairs, the Strozzina, which since opening in 2007 has gifted the city with top-notch, expertly curated shows.
The Marino Marini Museum in Piazza San Pancrazio similarly uses its evocative underground rooms to host big-name contemporary solo shows while devoting its main space to the eponymous 20th-century sculptor. And just around the corner is Biagiotti Progetto Arte, formerly a commercial gallery and now a dynamic non-profit entity that since its founding in the late 1990s has focused on promoting local and emerging artists.
The city itself continues living up to its reputation as an outdoor museum with sculptures by art star Louise Bourgeois gracing its cobblestoned piazzas this season. It has even acquired a considerable street art presence in recent years thanks to resident prankster Clet Abraham, whose altered road signs have become fixtures of the urban landscape.
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Contrary to popular opinion, Florence is also ready to cater to contemporary art buyers, especially now that enterprising young gallerists have joined more established venues to collectively satisfy various tastes. Standing out among these is Eduardo Secci, who opened his space in 2012. “We work closely with all our artists, so the provenance of each piece is certain,” says Secci.
Another impressive newcomer is Aria Art Gallery with its enchanting garden entryway which was launched in 2009. Tornabuoni Arte, on the other hand, vaunts a 35-year history of promoting Italian and international cutting-edge artists. In 2014 owner Roberto Casamonti decided to open this new 200-square-metre space on antique-store-lined Via Maggio to focus on contemporary names and leave his original Lungarno Cellini location to continue featuring 20th-century masters.
Finally, serious collectors can use Florence as the ideal base from which to visit the critically acclaimed Galleria Continua, one of the best commercial galleries in Europe with a museum-class exhibition space, in the Tuscan hilltop town of San Gimignano.