Anyone who arrives in Florence right now and visits Piazza della Signoria will get the chance to admire a very particular – and bright and shiny – sculpture standing right in front of Palazzo Vecchio: it is Jeff Koons’s Pluto and Proserpina.
Sitting in between the copies of Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes, the statue catches your attention with its bright yellow, mirror polished stainless steel and its height of over 3 meters. Since it appeared in the piazza on September 25th (and where it will continue to sit until the 28th of December), the statue has stirred much debate among locals as well as visitors.
It is the first time in almost 500 years that a “new” statue is placed in this area of Piazza della Signoria, albeit temporarily. The project, “In Florence”, seeks in fact to bring into contact artists of our time with those of the Florentine Renaissance in the same spaces and with interesting works.
The show has brought to Florence just two of Koons’s works and has placed them strategically to encourage discussion and debate on the meaning and relationship between beauty, time and art. Which they certainly are both doing.
The first work anyone encounters is, as stated above, the work sitting outside near Michelangelo’s David. Pluto and Proserprina (2010-2013) is from Koons’s Antiquity series and offers a transparent color coating and live flowering plants, so make sure to get up close to see this. The two figures, clinging to each other in a dramatic and sensual embrace, are striking during day time and at night create a jarring contrast to the other statues in bronze and marble nearby. The work references a famous work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Rape of Proserpina, made by the artist between 1621 and 1622 when Bernini was just 23 years old for the Cardinal Scipione Cafferelli Borghese.
The second work, Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun) from 2013, is located within Palazzo Vecchio’s Room of the Lilies where Donatello’s original Judith and Holofernes is housed and also references another statue from the past. The Gazing Ball series includes plater casts of famous sculptures from the Greco-Romn period and, in this case, it is the ancient Barberini Faun from the imperial age that was probably inspired by a bronze of the Greek Hellenistic period. It was discovered in Rome in the moat surrounding Castel Sant’Angelo around 1624. It was part of the Cardinal Francesco Barberini’s collection, but reached Germany at the end of the 19th century and today is found at the Gliptotheque in Munich.
All of the works in the series have a bright blue transparent glass sphere. The sharp contrast between the white plaster an blue ball is striking. It diverts your gaze from the study of the classical piece, which in this case is seductive and pushes the limit of the erotic. Placed near Judith, who is punishing Holofernes, it almost seems as a provokation. The setting of the room, with its decorations, vibrant colors and wooden ceiling, should present a vivid contrast: whether you like Koons’s work or not, you can certainly appreciate the interplay between balance and instability, the original and the copy, the artwork and object.
I will refrain from expressing my personal opinions of the two pieces other than to say it is refreshing to see contemporary works within the museum that is Florence as a reminder that while the city’s grandeur occurred centuries ago, it is still alive and working on offering inspiration to current and future artists.
The show was proposed by art gallery Moretti and curated by Sergio Risaliti. Promoted by the City of Florence, organized by Mus.e with the contribution of Florence’s Chamber of Commerce, Galleria Moretti (main sponsor), ITAF – Gruppo Zelari and David Zwirner with the collaboration of Biennale Internazionale di Antiquariato di Firenze.
About Lourdes Flores
An American living in Florence for over 10 years, Lourdes continues to explore and discover new places in Tuscany with the eyes of a tourist but with the experience of living in Italy. She shares her experiences on this blog and website, particularly offering lots of travel planning help on the Forum!