Artist JR shows off Italy 'museum opening' in latest work

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Artist JR shows off Italy 'museum opening' in latest work
Palazzo Strozzi General Director Arturo Galansino with artist JR, photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio.

by Alexandria Sage

FLORENCE (AFP).- With Italy's museums once again closed, French street artist JR has provided an art-starved public in Florence with a museum opening -- literally.

"La Ferita" (The Wound), the artist's latest work, is a black and white mural depicting a gaping hole cut into the side of Florence's Palazzo Strozzi, known for its contemporary art exhibits.

Beyond the rubble, the viewer glimpses some of the Renaissance city's best-known works inside the exposed galleries -- Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" and the twisting marble bodies of Giambologna's "Rape of the Sabine Women".

"It's a message that's coming at a moment when we need an opening to the museums," JR told AFP on Friday as the work was unveiled, adding that the public art might bring some relief "before the real museums open."

The artist is known for plastering huge, black-and-white photographs -- usually faces of unknown people in close-up -- on the sides of buildings and walls in locales as diverse as the West Bank, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or the border between Mexico and the United States.

The strict restrictions imposed across much of the world one year ago to deal with coronavirus did not sap JR's creativity, although he acknowledged that "no one can be inspired by the quarantine, that's for sure."

"Every constraint for an artist is good in that it pushes us to think, to invent and rethink, and if that's not the role of the artist than what is?" he said, adding that he views the pandemic as "an extra challenge".

With his latest work, which is free of people, he hoped to "involve people in the creative process".

The best position for viewing the work, which was commissioned by the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation and takes up half of one side of the 15th-16th century palace, is not straight on but from across the street, JR said, inviting viewers to find it spontaneously by meandering around the plaza.

Bringing art outside

The foundation's general director, Arturo Galansino, warned of the "social wound" to communities deprived of culture under the lingering Covid-19 health emergency.

"In a moment where access to culture is impossible, it was up to us to go to the streets, to the plazas, to bring culture outside of the museum because the museum is closed," Galansino said.

The obvious choice for such a work, he said, was JR, "the king of street art."

Travel both within Italy and into the country from overseas is currently tightly restricted due to coronavirus rules, but the artwork will be on show until August 22 -- and for now, at least, the locals are enjoying it.

In the plaza at the opening were two art students, Oliver Giusti and Leonardo Gensini, both 19, animatedly discussing perspectives, the choice of artwork inside the mural and the depiction of the gash across the museum's walls.

The students were enthused about having public art on the street, although Gensini was not convinced by the depiction of the smashed stone wall, calling the rocks "something from a video game from the '80s."

Regardless, he said, "Whether you like it or not, for sure it's something you pay attention to."

© Agence France-Presse

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