When you think about Florence, you envision Renaissance palaces, statues of David and a gorgeous almost impossible red brick dome. Contemporary art is pretty low on the list but over the past decade, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, the late 15th century stronghold of exaggerated stone masonry set just behind Piazza della Repubblica, has helped evolve the art scene to include contemporary art.
Palazzo Strozzi is Florence’s late 15th century stronghold, an urban fortress of exaggerated stone masonry set just behind Piazza della Repubblica. Today, the bombastic palace is the setting of cutting-edge contemporary shows by artists including Carsten Holler, Ai Wei Wei, and Marina Abramovic, as well as some great classics – the latest Nel Tuo Tempo. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s hybrid retrospective-new works exhibition.
Olafur Eliasson at Palazzo Strozzi
Eliasson has made a career on artwork that contemplates space and experience by overlapping matter, mindfulness and viewer’s participation. For Eliasson, Florence is a crossroads of these amazing and heart-wrenching sensorial experiences, and there is no better setting for his optical installations at Palazzo Strozzi. Nel Tuo Tempo is a showcase of Eliasson’s four decades of activity – in a line up 20 historic pieces – including my favorite Beauty (1993), a mist-cal oasis- and three new site-specific installation in this not-to-miss exhibition running through January 23, 2023..
This show is incredible easy to walk through and enjoy. First and foremost, reserve your ticket in advance so you don’t have to wait in line. Otherwise, while you wait, take in Eliasson’s Under the Weather (2022), an enormous elliptical filter seemingly floating above the palazzo’s courtyard entrance. Under the Weather captures the exhibit’s vibe right away. Your space, time and rhythm all come into question as you look up at the undulation of black and white organic pattern which shape shifts.
The main part of the exhibits resides on the piano nobile of the palazzo. Eliasson’s latest work – three site specific pieces – are the first three rooms. Each work plays with centuries-old architectural details of Palazzo Strozzi, bringing into the space the details of the palace windows for conversations on light, color and sound. Spotlights bounce light off of the windows and subtly placed mirrors creating technicolor light paintings, which invite views to contemplate matter and perspective. Or maybe just think of landscape in an entirely different light.
“Looking through a window, we sometimes forget that the window is editing from what is real outside. The window is like a lens, just like . . . a media lens, a part of the reality,” tells Eliasson.
Throughout the rest of the rooms are 20 historic works handpicked by Eliasson, like the aforementioned Beauty. Color and humorous are the first things that charmed me. Playful perspective is what I kept thinking like when I waked into Eye See You, where me and everything around me became sun-soaked yellow and How Do We Live Together, a huge optical illusion where I was literally head over heels in the exhibition. No matter how many times I walked through the show, each piece surprised me, sometimes took on an entirely new emotion for me.
Virtual Reality and NFTs
The last element of the exhibition takes places in Palazzo Strozzi’s basement gallery Strozzina, which tends to show less interesting, more tech or digital work/experiences. This is where Eliasson set up Your View Matte, his trippy play on the meta-verse. After donning a VR headset, I “walked” through six kaleidoscopic landscapes set to a pulsing electronic soundtrack. I felt like I was in Tron Legacy, not quite the best but still a little interesting.
On that note, Eliasson timed the launch of his free NFT Your View Matters (which you can watch on your desktop, tablet or phone) with Nel Tuo Tempo. Did I mention that the title means “In Your Time”?
Exploring More Contemporary Florence
What’s not to fall in love with Florence? Seriously, the city is full of beauty – Renaissance palaces, incredible churches and monasteries, and great food – in every moment inspite of the tourist crowds. But what about contemporary Florence? The centro storico is a maze of incredible historic buildings, most repurposed as museums, hotels and boutiques and if you take a peak you’ll find some great contemporary spots.
My favourites include Palazzo Concini, an 800-year-old palace whose ground floor houses Locale Firenze, ranked 39th in the latest World’s 50 Best Bars, Gucci Garden – the end all, be all hub for Gucci lovers will dive in creative director Alessandro Michele’s crazy mind in the gallery on the first and second floors, and Manifattura Tabbacchi, a Rationalist masterpiece and former cigar and cigarettes factory, is the mult-project complex and home to gallery NAM (Not a museum contemporary gallery), fashion university Polimoda’s satellite campus, European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science (E-RIHS) and artist residences.
A version of this article appeared in Forbes, October 2022. Photos ©Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio