EVERYONE KNOWS THAT FLORENCE is a venerable has-been, renowned for its icons of Western art history and top designer shops. So it was fitting that the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi chose the city to celebrate the centennial of its fashion house and to showcase its contemporary art program through the exhibition “8 1/2,” the number of years it has been producing site-specific shows in various evocative Milanese spaces.
The occasion was the men’s fashion trade show Pitti Immagine Uomo, which has produced art exhibitions since 1999. The opening-night crowd, an esoteric cross section of art and fashion, was dwarfed by the large-scale installations in the cavernous Stazione Leopolda, a former nineteenth-century train station. Fondazione Pitti Discovery’s fashion curator Maria Luisa Frisa chatted with artist Sissi, who sported a pom-pom hat and a woven silver-and-gold clutch resembling one of her sculptures. Florence’s thirty-five-year-old mayor, Matteo Renzi, and his culture deputy, Giuliano da Empoli, were out and about; Suzy Menkes was spotted rushing out to the Alberta Ferretti catwalk at the Santo Stefano al Ponte church. The Trussardi exhibition presents a selection of works drawn from the thirteen shows produced so far by the foundation in sundry, usually closed palazzi, curated by artistic director Massimiliano Gioni. Just inside the door were the tilted car and trailer of Elmgreen & Dragset’s Short Cut, overshadowed from behind by Paweł Althamer’s giant, nude, self-portrait blow-up doll—a carnivalesque premonition of the glory that was in store that week: naked men, scantily clad men, and men in leather.
In front of Urs Fischer’s toasted House of Bread, the artist’s operations manager, Angela Kunicky, and architect Peter Marangoni engaged in a tongue-in-cheek comparison of Damien Hirst’s diamond-studded skull, For the Love of God, and Michelangelo’s David: A copy of the latter stands guard in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, where the former is being shown. “You can’t compare them as works of art,” Kunicky insisted. “Think about the sculpture’s physique and gestures.” Peter replied, “What about the teeth?” I soon left for the other end of the station, a space called Alcatraz, where L’Uomo Vogue was having a party in honor of the 125th birthday of Italian shoemaker Pantofola d’Oro. The main event was a match made in heaven: A bevy of muscle-toned wrestlers in tight shorts were tussling on the stage set of an old-style gym.
The Trussardi dinner, haute cuisine created by Il Ristorante Trussardi alla Scala chef Andrea Berton, was served on the other side of a black curtain. Gioni stood up to toast Beatrice Trussardi, the brilliant young beauty who heads the Trussardi Group as president and CEO, adding that he and curator Cecilia Alemani had just been married at New York’s City Hall. I jumped in a taxi and headed down the Arno to join the fashion crowd at Club Cavalli, owned by the Florentine designer Roberto, where if you wore an animal print you risked looking like the furniture—as a few Italian women, propped on stilettos, did. It was like a journey back in time to the 1980s, with a pastiche of retro styles from the Gothic arches to the sinuous mirrored balcony. “It is meant to be ironic,” show designer Julie Lombardi explained, looking around. “Or maybe not.”
The next day I paid a visit to Hirst’s precious memento mori at the Palazzo Vecchio, where it is sequestered in a pitch-black room next to the former study of Francesco I de’ Medici. Five guards stood about the lavishly decorated room, a precious jewel box itself, designed by Giorgio Vasari; the exhibit, organized amid controversy by Florentine Francesco Bonami, has been insured for about $100 million. For my money, the gem-encrusted $2 million Victoria’s Secret bra recently displayed on model Adriana Lima is stiff competition—and an awesome memento vivere. Just across the Ponte Vecchio, I paid homage to other anatomical examples at the eighteenth-century Specola, Europe’s first scientific museum, which would have been the ideal showcase for Hirst’s masterwork if not for the necessary security measures: There were not only livestock cross sections and sharks floating in glass cases but wax human figures à la Maurizio Cattelan and a harrowing diorama of the plague in the manner of Jake and Dinos Chapman. After a tour of the thirty-four rooms, death was palpable to this living mind.
The Trussardi menswear runway event that evening at the former train station offered some compelling anatomy too. An endless stream of beautiful men were all adorned in skins—every piece was made of leather, including refined V-neck tees and shiny lightweight trenches, harking back to the company’s beginning as a glove maker. Looking serious in spite of her signature topknot, überfashionista Menkes sat in the front row across the catwalk from the Trussardi family. Everyone clapped as the sleek greyhound, the company’s mascot, loped with the model down the runway, and Menkes snapped a picture. We all adjourned to the exhibition hall, where I caught Gioni and Alemani watching the male guard stripping as part of Tino Sehgal’s Selling Out. In the next room was Cattelan’s We, two self-portrait dummies in bed together. I mentioned to Gioni the theory that he and Cattelan were alter egos. He replied thoughtfully, “These days I am only wrestling with myself.”