Street Levels Gallery opens in via Palazzuolo

Urban art at the forefront of Florence’s art scene

Samantha Vaughn
December 29, 2016 - 17:12

The newest gallery to hit the Florence art scene opened to the public on December 18, 2016. The Street Levels Gallery inaugurated its space with an exhibition titled UNITY Wanted, highlighting the work of 18 local street artists. In their own words, the Street Levels Gallery is a space that is “part exhibition gallery, part creative hub dedicated to examining and exposing the various levels of interaction of art with the streets and the public, as well as becoming a meeting point for all young Florentine creative talents.” A place where enthusiasts can gather, artists can work together and collectors can collect. But the Street Levels Gallery’s opening in Florence is of vital importance for reasons beyond its personal intentions. Its very presence is the latest attempt to bring this underground and under-approved art form to the local mainstream. And if the opening’s crowd was any indication, it is clear there’s an eagerness to see street art gain more acceptance.

 

 

A work in the Street Levels Gallery

 

Some of the artists are well known, others less so. Visitors might recognize Blub’s famous project, L’arte sa nuotare, represented here by an underwater Buddha. The artist kept the techniques for the piece similar to its street counterparts, which are often applied to metal gas and electricity hatches on the sides of buildings. Buddha too can be found on a square metal door, seemingly ripped from the street to be brought inside.

A place where enthusiasts can gather, artists can work together and collectors can collect

 

Another name that stands out is CLET; even those only vaguely familiar with his name have seen his work. His single contribution is ambiguous, a French flag, that of his home country, painted on a piece of paper, the red dripping down the page. One could infer a variety of meanings from the work— my first thought is about politics—but explanation is not always a part of street art, something UNITY Wanted maintains, despite the formal gallery setting. The labels are minimal: a name and title, nothing more.

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‘Street art, or guerilla art, needs to be reinvented in dialogue with the Renaissance city,' says Clet Abraham, the French-born artist who has come into the public eye
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Some works seem to have more obvious themes, like All You Can Eat, by Hogre: a blue and white stencil of an overweight man in front of a computer screen with the words “ALL You CAN EAT” plastered across. The dark blue paint closing in around the man gives the impression he is awake in the dead of night, playing one more level, watching one more episode.

 

The differences between Blub, CLET and Hogre’s techniques are not confined to them. Each of the 18 artists varies in their approaches, bringing a much-needed awareness of the range of street art techniques and materials to the public. Moradi il Sedicente crafted a pecorino from sticks, Jamesboy layered thick woodcuts to design an ancient South American-like mask, URTO applied his piece to fabric, even leaving the tools of his trade in a staged display underneath the work. Then there’s Ache77’s No Pressure Series, made entirely from pressure-less cans, and the sticker-based artist Stelleconfuse, who contained their work to a neat frame for the gallery’s show, but whose street works take on established forms, like their famous cityscapes. With such variety in techniques and materials, it’s unfortunate that street art is so widely denounced as nothing more than pollution. These artists work hard to develop their techniques, styles and pieces, many of them even infusing messages into their art.

 

 

A lot of these messages are central to their work as well, which cannot be disregarded. A local curator and collector attending the show’s opening, Michele, immediately took me under his wing the moment our eyes locked, flashing his Instagram page like a modern-day business card. He introduced me to many of the exhibiting artists and offered to explain the motifs of some of them. It was striking, and perhaps a little ironic given the perception of street art as pollution, to discover that some artists dedicate their art to promoting ecological issues, such as Hopnn, whose central theme is the use and benefits of bikes, and Stelleconfuse, who began with the idea that planting a tree is good for the environment. Michele also explained Ache77’s anti-individualism stance; we only grow through our interactions with other people, 1+1=1. With passionate messages expressed through their work, why are these artists not afforded the same esteem as those of other genres?

 

 

 

 

Places like the Street Levels Gallery are important in dismantling this stigma. Any such endeavors will always be curious in Florence, the Renaissance jewel. There is little recognition of street art as an appropriate form of expression, but even less so in a city teeming with canon-defining works of art. Indeed, most artists have to work on the outskirts of the city, and for those who manage to install a piece in the center, they may quickly find it removed. Michele told me about associations that want to help artists pursue their art, giving them dedicated spaces to work. But for street artists, that’s not how things work. The very nature of their genre is that it shouldn’t be controlled. Sure, the Street Levels Gallery can be considered a controlled setting, but their mission is not to control. It’s to work together with the artists to further their cause and their passion. Perhaps it’s this that made these 18 artists agree to bring their street work into a traditional venue. It’s always good to know someone is on your side.

 

 

UNITY Wanted at Street Levels Gallery

Open until January 18, 2017
Via Palazzuolo 74R, Florence
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Open daily 10.30am–1pm; 3–7pm

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