JEFF KOONS IN FLORENCE: a conversation with the past

If you read my Sunday links this week, you’ll probably have seen that Jeff Koons is exhibiting two sculptures in Florence as of late September. If my Facebook feed is anything to go by, this has proven controversial amongst Florentines, who, if they don’t like it, absolutely loathe it. Opinions are didvided mostly by Pluto and Proserpina (1955), a yellow-coloured stainless steel copy of Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina (1621-2), complete with the addition of live flowers.

Like I’ve said, there’s a strange allure to the juxtaposition of contemporary art within historic spaces, creating a dialogue that spans centuries. It can often come across as gimmicky, and as little as I care for Koons, I think the sculpture was well chosen in this instance. Here we see a kitschy reproduction of an iconic (and arguably kitschy itself) piece of Italian art, which in this context challenges the beholder to consider questions of the changing role and value of art throughout ages. A conversation of sorts. This is especially interesting given that the statue is being exhibited outside Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria, just metres away from a replica of Michelangelo’s David, an icon of the city. Why is this Koons statue, which will only be here for a short period, so controversial, yet nothing is said about the fake David? It’s fascinating that that one replica polarises, whilst the other is celebrated as if it were the original.

Is it simply because one ‘looks the part’? If it’s a case of aesthetics I would argue that the ideals of beauty being imposed on the piece are hollow and insipid. This vapidity is something that Koons has exploited throughout his career, so criticism of this sort would be to kind of miss the point entirely. The exhibition lasts only until December, and I’m sure the cultural fabric of the city is not so fragile that it will crumble at the mere thought of a shiny statue. We must appreciate an opportunity for a bit of pot-stirring. Florence- heart of the Rennaissance- often clings too tightly to this heritage, while access to contemporary art in the city is fairly limited. This creates a real staleness in the art scene, where introducing a bit of modernity is a breath of fresh air. Not everything will be a success, naturally, but allowing room for variety is healthy and secures Florence’s position as a pulsing centre of art and culture, rather than a musty old museum.

I don’t care to make any sweeping, definitive statements on this exhibition, I only want to shine a light on a small part of a larger discussion. I’d be fascinated to read what others think on the subject – don’t hesitate to share your thoughts!

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