Various Venues

There are places condemned to look backward, longingly, at a bygone era. Tuscany, cradle of the Renaissance, is one of them. The fine, wealthy bourgeoisie that inhabit Florence and the surrounding region have long comprised one of the most traditionalist strata of Italian culture. They are convinced that Tuscany's golden period can never be repeated; any attempt to produce new art would have to stand up ta a comparison with that earlier time, obviously coming out the loser. With “Continuità: Sistema metropolitano d'arte contemporanea,” four Tuscan art institutions (Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Palazzo Fabroni in Pistoia, Centro per l'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, and Fattoria di Celle in Santomato) and an equal number of curators (Alberto Boatto, Daniel Soutif, Jean-Christophe Ammann, and Angela Vettese) tried to prove to the international art world—and above all to their fellow citizens—that Tuscany is not only a place in which the illustrious past should be preserved, but also a significant site of production in the present and recent past.

The postwar period in Tuscany is characterized by the same broad currents and movements as the rest of Italy, Europe, and much of the world. One finds geometric abstraction along with figuration, Informel, a bit of Pop art, much “Visual Poetry,” a dash of Conceptualism; and so one quickly arrives at the '80s—the threshold of recent history. The exhibition inexplicably omits the painting of Sandro Chia from this period, although he is Tuscan by birth and education and returned to the region after his years in America, instead representing the artist with two videos from 1975. Other strange gaps in the '80s and '90s include the work of Loris Cecchiini and Massimo Bartolini. But it is futile to dwell on the names of the banished. More interesting would be to try to discover if there still exists a Tuscan genius loci, an identifiable regional quality that emerges through some artistic sentiment or stylistic choice; and indeed, something of the sort can be discerned. For example, most Tuscan artists of any national or international reputation have as a common denominator an almost rationalist choice of format and approach; their art is well considered and barely emotional: It is as if this sort of programmatic ratiocination were equivalent to the grand tradition of the Tuscan Renaissance, which saw drawing, understood as the original embodiment of a Neoplatonic idea, as the basis for every other artistic activity. Still, Tuscany seems so well integrated into the international art circuit and the global art market that any local, as opposed to global, characteristic ends up seeming very faint indeed—all the more so if one recalls that the region's great artistic tradition has itself informed almost the entirety of Western art. Nonetheless, the art of Tuscany today is perceived as “peripheral,” a legacy of past traditions. And the suspicion arises that the desire to affirm the region's contemporaneity, in fact, bespeaks its contrary: the very present fear of being considered merely custodians of the past.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore