In a present world that dreams of far-away spatial travels and life on Mars, Palazzo Strozzi has brought the main stars of the art’s sky on Earth with its recently inaugurated exhibition Reaching for the Stars: from Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, starring contemporary artworks from Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.
During a limited-access opening, the Editorial Staff of I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to preview the artworks and watch a live performance by the artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
By Jonathan Paonetti and Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Goshka Macuga, GONOGO, 2023. Exhibition view: Reaching for the Stars: from Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Palazzo Strozzi. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi. Photo: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio.
A constellation in the art world galaxy shines brighter than the others. You can recognise it not only for the size of its stars but mainly for the colourful gasses that burn in its orbit: a concentrated blend of diverse beauty.
With a stylised star as its logo, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo is a major institution in today’s cultural panorama. Displayed in Palazzo Strozzi for the exhibition Reaching for the stars: from Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, seventy of its masterpieces can pull visitors into an otherworldly journey among the big names of the art world of the last 50 years.
GETTING OFF TO REACH THE ART PLANET
While entering Palazzo Strozzi on Friday night, a varied fauna inhabited the Renaissance palace, including journalists, collectors, curators, gallerists and guests who had the chance to partake in the exclusive opening.
Around the internal porch, the participants of this fascinating art ritual were bewitchingly pointing their orbits to the site-specific installation at the heart of the courtyard: based on a reticular platform, the 15-metre high silver and blue rocket GONOGO (2023) by the Polish artist Goshka Macuga was the launch platform of the exhibition.
With no engines, the megalithic artwork delivered an oppressive sense of missing chance. Potentially able to get off, its desperate immobility allowed the viewer’s mind to wander while keeping their feet on the ground in search of new worlds.
Before taking the stairs to reach the underground exhibition, Strozzina, it was impossible not to glance at the cafè inside, where the true star of the night, the collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, was chatting with her entourage. Having part of her immense and assorted art collection hosted inside the cultural institution, she celebrated like this the first 30 years of her eponymous foundation.
The underground floor of the building featured works ranging from the video installation Thaw (2001) by Doug Aitken on climate change to the covers of magazines on the Twin Towers attacks in Hans-Peter Feldman’s installation 9/12 Front Page (2001). We silently witnessed a series of intense emotions that left no room for words. We understood, metabolised and proceeded to the main floor.
THE NOBLE FLOOR: MEMENTO MORI AND THE FEMALE FIGURE
With the artwork The Acquired Inability to Escape, Inverted and Divided (1993), Damien Hirst welcomes us to the first room of the piano nobile. The cigarettes that can be glimpsed–a symbol of pleasure that leads to death–allow us to understand one of the exhibition’s themes: the memento mori.
Maurizio Cattelan, poster-boy of this exhibition, impressed us again with two artworks: La rivoluzione siamo noi (2000) and Bidibidobidiboo (1996). In the former, one of his puppet caricatures hangs from a coat hanger leaving room for infinite interpretations, as does the latter, where a humanised squirrel takes his own life with a gunshot after one last drink: a perfect expression of life’s transience.
Another theme is the female figure, present in artworks and artists such as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Vanessa Beecroft and Sarah Lucas: names that evoke the visitors’ amazement.
We acknowledge a desire and the need to go beyond stereotypes and understand the strength of the female figure in history and the violence women still have to bear. The latter is expressed with a high-impact work: Femmes sans tête (2004) by Berlinde De Bruyckere. A woman’s lacerated and mutilated body is displayed in a compelling showcase that makes people feel the victim’s pain.
ASCENSION TO THE LOGGIA
After visiting the exhibition and metaphorically embarking on new adventures with the GONOGO shuttle (2023), the visitors were invited to the upper Loggia of the palace.
There, during the after party, the multidisciplinary artist Ragnar Kjartansson – the creative mind behind the five-screen video installation The End: Rocky Mountains (2009) displayed in Strozzina – emerged from the dark underground to brighten the night with the ironic melancholy that characterises his work. The combination of instruments represented in the previously mentioned installation found its physical folk counterpart in the performance of the Reykjavik-based artist.
“The weight of the world is love”, said Kjartasson through a wistful melody and rose petals tossed to the public while showing off his flashy leopard-print suspenders. Seated at the foot of the stage, with a pleated, high-waisted, mulberry silk taffeta skirt, the Turin collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo was the ultimate art fan girl for the Islander artist, accompanying the tune with jingles of her heavy necklace.
The striped pumpkin orange tie of the director Arturo Galansino was rustling from one attendee to another; meanwhile, the performance bewitched the crowd and multiplied on the listeners’ screens.
Over us, the entire ceiling was plunged in blue neon lights and covered by a swarm of tiny lights, mimicking the buzzing of the stars on a clear night. There, with the illusion of dancing suspended in the celestial vault, it was impossible to say that the sky was the limit.
Giulia Piceni is an Arts Curating undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Jonathan Paonetti is an Art Management postgraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.