In September I spent a few days in Florence before pedaling off on a VBT bicycle tour of Tuscany. I had already called the Hotel Adler from home to secure reservations for the city’s Big Two art galleries: the Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s “David,” and the Uffizi, domicile of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”
The Accademia was quiet. The Uffizi, however, was like Black Friday at your favorite megaretailer now destroying America. Let me try that again: the Accademia was serene while certain galleries on the top floor of the Uffizi resembled a mid-sized music concert where a crowd of dancing idiots in front of the stage blocks the view for everyone else.
(A view, by the way, of a famously naked yet shyly self-aware woman standing on a floating scallop shell, a proposal that makes Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” look like a downright reasonable way to get from one side of a river to the other.)
I liked both exhibition palaces, but my favorite galleria d’arte was the street, which housed numerous works by French-born Clet Abraham, who works with ready-made canvasses, including no entrance signs.
In Florence you’re surrounded by buildings that are hundreds of years old. The lowly no entrance sign has only been on the scene since the 1930s. Between the buildings and the signs, I’d rather the signs receive the officially unapproved attention of artists.
The buildings already convey their most important messages—resilience, solidity, tradition and place–quite well. The signs are easily replaced should their original and subsequent messages become too muddled.
The white bar on a red background is a universal graphic, which ensures its message is clear regardless of the viewer’s language. Abraham’s graphics on a range of topics are just as quickly understood.
The sign for No is transformed into Maybe This, unlike the rural American stop sign artlessly modified by shotgun (though to be naively hopeful, you still occasionally see the noun War scrawled beneath that sign’s official verb).
I have no need for hierarchy. I tend, instead, to embrace those works that alter my perspective.
And Abraham’s art made me look up.