My Trip to Florence
Follow along with me on my recent 'vacation' to Florence, to attend the Biennale of contemporary art, which I had been invited to. I kept a mini-journal on my trip and present it to you now... (map) (super-map 1MB)
(some pictures are links to “super-zooms” - if mouse turns to a hand, click!)
Got in line at the S.F. Terminal. Immediately started meeting nice people. On the plane met an older couple also in the Biannual. My seat was the worst seat on the plane. Last row in the back right up against the bulkhead. Couldn't put it back. Got off at Frankfurt a wreck. Waited for connecting flight to Florence. On the second plane I got the last seat in the back right up against the bulkhead again! Total flight time 12 hours. 14 counting the hold over. Got maybe 3 hours of sleep. Met a lot of people on the plane also in the Biennale.
Still Wednesday, 12-3-2003 - Florence!
Took a cab into the city to my hotel. Shared with 2 other artists. My hotel is 3 blocks from the venue. Walked around the city a total wreck from the flight. Trying to stay up as late as possible so as to get in synch with the clock here. Had dinner in a little fast food pizza/espresso bar. Got accosted by a little gypsy kid begging for money. Real aggressive. Gypsy mother coaching the kid. They had me pegged but I resisted.
Later that night
Went to an Internet café & sent e-mail. Also got a bunch of post cards. Had a late supper trying to stay up as late as possible. Met a nice English couple at the table. We talked about politics. They said they were having as much trouble with Blair as we were with Bush. Couldn't stay up past 9pm Italy time - have to do better tomorrow.
Went over to the venue to see how they are going to lay it all out. Went to their office to sign in. Seems all very professional. [The reception was Sat. the 6th, here it was the 4th and they haven't started putting up the show yet. I should have known something was amiss.] Went walking around my neighborhood. Did some shopping. Got a shirt. Surprised at how homogenized fashion all over the world is. The store could have been any in the U.S.A. Stopped & had lunch. Getting used to the laid back style here. Just sit and sip your cappuccino.
Later that night
Took a nap in the afternoon, think I have Italian blood. Got up & got some groceries. Went to a coffee shop & asked for a transit map. A lady at the counter (good looking blond about 40) showed me how to get to the tourist info office. She said she sold Jaguar autos. I told her about the art show & reception Sat. night & invited her. On the way back to my hotel I investigated what I thought was an entrance to a subway system. It was an underground shopping mall! I guess they didn't want to tear down all the old buildings so they put it underground. Amazing! I later found out it was built along with the train station. It extends under and around the station for a couple blocks.
All the streets & sidewalks are cobblestone. It's real uneven. I think we are spoiled with our smooth pavement. My ankles are getting a real work out. Have to watch it. It would be real easy to twist my ankle & have to hobble around for the rest of the week. Even new streets & sidewalks are cobblestone.
Last night after dinner about 9pm I had 2 cups of coffee. I don't know what I was thinking. Anyway I couldn't get to sleep until 3am. Got up at my usual time, about 8am had breakfast & then went back to bed. Got up about 3pm. So I lost a half a day. It doesn't look like I'll get down to the Uffizi Gallery today. I'll try again tomorrow. I went over to the venue again this afternoon. They are starting to set it up. [This is the day before the reception and they are only starting] To be frank it doesn't look too good. I would call it a regional art show. Like Sausalito in the Bay Area. The level of sophistication isn't very high. I like to think the level of my work is a little higher then what I'm seeing here but maybe I'm kidding myself. Or maybe my work is on a higher level & they don't understand it. Or on the positive side maybe it is what I think & they will see it & blow them away. I wanted to get this out, be honest with myself and then not dwell on it & get on with things. Tomorrow is the reception and we'll see how things are.
My ankles are getting the workout I predicted. I haven't actually twisted my ankle yet but they are really sore. Maybe I should try using busses more.
Later that night (Fri) went out walking the streets, just wandering. I haven't done a lot of what you'd call site seeing. I'm just merging with the crowds on the street & going with the flow. I discovered a vast street market & bought a bunch of T-shirts with various local decals on them. Gave out my cards & just blindly wandered around. I ran into this large cathedral square & took shots of the church at night. I think they are very dramatic. The church is huge; it's called Il Duomo by the locals, for the big cupola or dome it has (I learned later that it is known formally as the 'Cathedral of Holy Mary of the Flower'). Stopped in a restaurant on the square and had dinner. They will let you sit there all night, literally, before they bring you the bill. First couple of times I felt like the Ugly American, finished my meal & then asked for the bill. Now I'm getting the hang of it. I think you really have to sit there taking up space for a while so they won't feel insulted.
Today was a hell of a day. One extreme to another. I'm dead drunk right now but I'll try to relate it. 1st thing I went to a large market. What would pass for a super market around here. Think of a 14th century super market. A big building with a bunch of open air stalls in it. Then I went to the Uffizi Gallery. I'm sorry to say what a disappointment. They have to keep the lighting low to preserve the paintings. Very low lighting. Also they have plexi-glass screens in front of the paintings & they were dirty. I saw all the important paintings but I got books that show them much better. I got photos of the square outside. That was really impressive. Lots of photos. Then there was a comedy of errors because I sent my suit to the cleaners and they couldn't figure it out. It reminded me of those Tony Curtis movies like "Boeing, Boeing" except without the cute chicks.
Then I got to the Biennale venue & that was total pandemonium. They should have started installing the show a week earlier. They started on Thursday. The building I was in didn't start till Friday. The reception is supposed to be today, Saturday, at 5pm. At 2pm a quarter of the work hadn't been put up. There is trash all over the floor. Many including myself had paid the shipping company, Savino Del Bene, USA, Inc, to have all this taken care of. Now the artists were hanging their own work. Savino Del Bene was in total disarray. Not only that but the quality of work was second string. It looked like art school. The overall look was of a regional art show.
After the reception some of the artists & myself went out for dinner & groused about the show & the organizers. We blamed it on bad planning. It remains to be seen how my work will be received by the awards committee. But the reaction among artists was positive. We all kidded each other and speculated who of us would get a prize if not 1st prize. But we also thought it was unlikely. I said artists always like my work but civilians don't get it. We all went out to dinner - 3 Norwegians, 2 transplanted Germans to London, 1 native Londoner, 1 Aussi & 1 British Columbian. Eating pasta and drinking wine. We got real drunk and had a blast!
It took a day to come down from the adrenalin of yesterday. In the morning did my laundry, checked my e-mail. Then I went back up to the venue again. Picked up the catalog. Very impressive volume. 891 artists all with at least 2 pieces, more than 1800 pieces in the show. Filling 2 adjacent buildings. The quality of the work varies from real bad (some, but a few too many) to real good (many). And a lot in between. Quality of work is a problem. In addition Savino Del Bene's lack of planning for the opening makes us all wonder what we paid them for.
But upon going back the show looks better because Savino Del Bene worked all day & all night to get it right. A day late and a dollar short for the reception. Found out there is a sort of roving critique going around conducted by one of the organizers of the event. Also a film crew highlighting selected artists and their work. I'm trying to get on their list. We'll see what happens. Tomorrow or the next day I'll strike out for Pizza.
The adventure continues. I find out one of the head organizers of the show, John Spike is conducting ad hoc critiques. There is a large group of hangers on following him around. He keeps a list & the task is to get close enough to him, get his attention & get your name on his list. Then wait your turn, hours/days & then be there when your name comes up. Same thing with the camera crew. It's all being at the right place at the right time kind of thing. I know this is how the art world is run. But I find it disappointing, even degrading. Maybe this is one reason I'm not flourishing in the art world. But I'm not going to follow John Spike around like a groupie, hoping to get his attention.
The fact is the site seeing is disappointing. The galleries & the insides of the churches are very dimly lit to protect the paint. The architecture and the public out door sculpture are incredible. & Worth it. As I've said the show itself is a mixed bag, more bad nuts than good, but good nuts there are. One of the good nuts is the other artists. I find I like best hanging out with the people of Florence in the restaurants, watching the street life and hanging out with the artists & talking about art in general. There is a lot of grousing about the show. A lot of people reflect the same things I have said.
Last night I went to a party at a restaurant reserved by one of the more successful artists. It reminded me of my old student days at the Art Institute. They were all artists that felt the same way I did, about the show in particular & about art in general. That art doesn't happen with the institutions (galleries & museums) but in the street and in the studio. I count this night as one of the big pluses of this trip.
The general response to my work is very good. When people round the corner where my work is shown the universal reaction is "OH WOW!" Lots of people think "Bad Boy" is the best piece in the show, excepting their own of course. They look at them and say "WHAT FUN!" Each time I get the satisfying thunk of the bat as I hit another one out of the ballpark. Several people have come by & said, "Love your work & my kid thinks it's out of this world!"
The weather has really gotten cold. When I first got here it was in the 60's that was Saturday. By Monday it had dropped to the 40's.
This morning got up early to pick up my additional (2) copies of the catalog. I've caught a cold. Probably from the keyboards at the Internet café I go to. Not bad but enough to add to the sore feet problem. I thought the best way to get the catalogs home would be to ship them ahead via post. So I had to track down a box to put them in, tape to seal up the box & then realized I really should wrap them up in bubble-wrap. The box and the tape weren't a big problem. But finding bubble-wrap was challenging. I finally found some, wraped it up & got it to the post office. 10 kilos cost 110 Euros (about $134). That whole thing took half a day. But now I can put on my resume "Purchased bubble-wrap in Italian". After that I took my cold to bed & took the rest of the day off.
Not much to report today. Still dealing with a cold, staying in bed. In the afternoon sent some more purchases home by post.
Went to see the "David" statue. Disappointed again. It was under renovation & was surrounded with scaffolding. And again the galleries were very dimly lit. By the way, all these outside statues are replicas. The originals are kept in the Galleria Della Accademia, where they don't even allow photos. The replicas are said to be virtually exact, however.
Some thoughts on Italian culture: All though the classical heritage that surrounds them, most Italians don't seem to care about their heritage. They make a living servicing the tourists that come to see it. Other than that it doesn't seem to be important to them. What dominates the lives on the street day to day is American culture. They are as fixated on the doings of American Pop Stars as any American. In fact I would say that most Americans, here in Florence, have more regard for Italian classical culture than do Italians. There is Italian rap, Italian imitations of all things American. TV shows & movies dubbed in Italian, lots of them.
Still have a cold, still in bed. The awards ceremony is Sat. 13th 9pm. I want to be OK by then. I don't want to have a cold on the plane. In general my enthusiasm for the show continued to go downhill. I was writing an e-mail to my friends back at home describing things and so on. I said as long as I ignored whatever the Biennale people were doing and concentrated on the art and the artists I was having a great time. I was sitting there struggling with this damn cold and realized I ought to take some of my own advice. So I panned the dinner.
Post Trip Addendum
The deficiencies of the show were many. But there were good things too. One of the good things was the catalog. It is a very impressive volume. And I met a lot of great people. Also although the quality of the art was a problem, most of it was pretty good. And some of it was very good.
Unfortunately the advertising and marketing program wasn't very effective and there was not much of a jurying effort. And Savino Del Bene had some problems getting their act together. There was an awards ceremony. All the awards were very safe well within conservative notions of contemporary painting. The awards committee was largely made of academics and art historians.
This was an experience I will carry with me for many years. I showed my work in an international show with hundreds of other artists. There were bumps and scrapes along the way but that's the way it is in real life.
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