Florence’s Full Immersion In Contemporary Art With Olafur Eliasson

Full immersion Florence means a lot of different things. It could mean a deep dive into the city’s Renaissance history, a meandering street food stroll tasting every trippa and lampredotto possible, and even an encounter with the encompassing swarms of visitors vying for a glimpse of any of its David replicas. To artist Olafur Eliasson, it’s a crossroads of sensorial experience best seen in his optical installations at Palazzo Strozzi.

Palazzo Strozzi is Florence’s late 15th century stronghold, an urban fortress of exaggerated stone masonry set just behind Piazza della Repubblica. Today, the palace is the bombastic art venue Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi whose gorgeous architecture is backdrop to cutting-edge contemporary shows by artists including Carsten Holler, Ai Wei Wei and now Eliasson in a hybrid retrospective-new works exhibition Nel Tuo Tempo.

Time for Art with Olafur Eliasson

Danish-Icelandic Eliasson has made a career on artwork that contemplates space and experience by overlapping matter, mindfulness and viewer’s participation. Nel Tuo Tempo is a showcase of Eliasson’s four decades of activity. The exhibition brings together 20 of Eliasson’s historic pieces – including 1993’s Beauty- and three new site-specific installation.

Ground floor and entry into Palazzo Strozzi is Eliasson’s Under the Weather (2022), a enormous elliptical filter seemingly floating across the courtyard’s mid loggia. Undulating across its tennis fabric is a black and white organic pattern which shape shifts as you move about around the work.

From here, visitors head to the first floor where the exhibition takes over Palazzo Strozzi’s piano mobile. The first three rooms showcase three newest site specific artworks. And like Under the Weather, each work plays with centuries-old architectural details of Palazzo Strozzi but this time bringing the details of its windows inside. “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.

Each installation is a conversation 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.

20 historic Eliasson works are featured in various rooms through the piano mobile, each handpicked by the artist and emphasising themes of ephemera, objectivity, temperature and light – and playfulness, whether it’s the yellow-soaked Room for One Color (1997) or 2019’s How Do We Live Together, a mirrored illusion that flips the viewer upside. No matter how many times you visit the show, each of Eliasson’s pieces surprises, sometimes transforming with the space, weather and mood.

Virtual Reality and NFTs

The palace’s basement gallery Strozzina hosts out-of-bounds exhibitions and its here that Eliasson plays on the meta-verse and social spaces in an immersive VR art work. Your View Matter is a trippy walk through six kaleidoscopic landscapes set to a pulsing electronic soundtrack – a meditative EDM. With a vibe reminiscent of Tron, viewers cross through room of ever-changing geometric, moiré pattern.

Eliasson keeps the experience physical as well as metaphysical. The Strozzina installation was timed with the launch of his free NFT Your View Matters, one of the few big art NFTs which viewers can access for free on personal devices.

Exploring More Contemporary Florence

On the hunt for contemporary Florence? It’s is everywhere, especially in the overlap of the city’s history. The centro storico is a maze of incredible historic buildings, most repurposed as museums, hotels and boutiques. A favourite is Palazzo Concini, an 800-year-old palace whose ground floor houses Locale Firenze. Ranked 39th in the latest World’s 50 Best Bars, Locale combines Renaissance history in its design and art-themed cocktails, while being firmly grounded in the present.

Take a walk across the river to Oltrarno, a neighborhood traditionally home to the city’s artisans including today’s latest and most innovative. Via Maggio and its side streets are the address for artisans and craftsperson including painters, furniture makers, gold and silversmiths, digital designers, and cutting-edge clothing and swimsuit designers.

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.

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