Palazzo Vecchio – Sala d’Arme – Florence, Italy
November 1-13, 2016
Open daily 11am-7pm, free entrance
Fifty years ago this month, on November 4, 1966, the Arno River swelled over its boundaries and the great flood of Florence devastated the city destroying lives, livelihoods, property, works of art and historic books. Alfabeti Sommersi (Submerged Alfabets), a unique exhibition held through November 13, 2016 in the Palazzo Vecchio, remembers the event by reflecting on the theme of memory and the book. A documentary color film shot in super-8 by Beppe Fantacci is projected on the walls within the monumental arches of the interior architecture of the Sala d’Arme while work by two great contemporary artists, Emilio Isgrò and Anselm Kiefer, is exhibited together for the first time, curated by Marco Bazzini and Sergio Risaliti, in collaboration with the Lia Rumma and Tornabuoni Arte galleries.
Eight large-scale “books” are presented by Kiefer and Isgrò paying homage to the hundreds of historic books and illuminated manuscripts which were destroyed in the great flood when raging waters and mud invaded the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale and other historic archives. The important artistic and historic heritage that was damaged or lost during the flood is symbolized by the book and by the famous Crucifix by Cimabue that was irretrievably scarred in the Basilica of Santa Croce. In both Kiefer’s and Isgrò’s work, the book is a subject loaded with universal meanings and interpretations.
Many of these treasures were saved in a chain of friendship and solidarity that involved volunteers from all over the world, the famous “mud angels.” Among these was a young Emilio Isgrò (Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Messina, 1937), who was at the time a young journalist reporting from from Florence.
Considered one of the innovators of Italian artistic language after the Second World War, Emilio Isgrò is the undisputed father of erasure, a creative act that began in the early sixties and is still seen as a contemporary statement. The words are blocked out with bold graphics that erase the text, censoring and fragmenting the original meaning by exposing only select words. The deleted sense of meaning interrupts the original relationship between words, creating a new understanding, not unlike the ephemeral information that was deleted during the flood. The newly interpreted pages become graphic symbols of text and marks creating a poetic, almost musical rhythm and a new language of concept and memory, exposing only the primary essence.
The books of Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, March 8, 1945) are instead rich in layers of specific materials, visual reference, conceptual iconography, myth and memory. One of the greatest innovators of poetic pictorial/sculptural language, much of Kiefer’s work is inspired by the troubled history and memory of Germany and its people, expressed in universal feelings of pain caused by the tragedy of war and the Holocaust.
Among his favorite subjects are the library and the book, representing knowledge, civilizations, and places of memory and archive. Keifer’s books reflect on the dilemma between images and words, of the seeing and knowing. They create a new dialogue between man, nature, and the cosmos. His works are heavy and dimensional in imagery as well as in material, usually humble, natural materials from the landscape, often in a state of transformation. One of the books on display in Alfabeti Sommersi are with pages made from lead, a specifically paradoxical and symbolic material choice, with beautiful patinas created with alchemy, aged or damaged surfaces. He has also produced art books in which unites text, paintings, photographs, and collages, referencing to history, and things that have vanished.
“In alchemy, lead needs the lowest grade for it transformation in gold. It is both a cold and heavy metal linked to Saturn and melancholia, and a more spiritual metal due to its silver components.” – Anselm Kiefer