Kid-friendly exhibitions in Florence this spring

Shows and activities to hold short attention spans

Mary Gray
April 11, 2017 - 18:28

Booking a family outing at the big Florentine museums starts with the best of intentions, but sometimes it ends with a temper tantrum before the "Birth of Venus". Force-feeding a "fun educational experience" to little ones will almost always fall flat, but you can keep Florence museum fatigue at bay. This spring, several kid-friendly exhibitions are cropping up at less crowded local venues—while more mainstream museums are offering activities to make the art go down easy. 

New Japanese Rooms + "Robot Fever" at the Stibbert Museum

A portion of the Japanese collections at the Stibbert Museum

For most Florence-savvy families, a mention of the Stibbert Museum won’t be surprising—the space has long been popular with little ones for its impressive collections of armor and weapons. The surrounding garden, with its Egyptian temple and manufactured exoticism, is a fresh escape from the everyday in Florence.

Never made it out to the museum? Now’s the time: restoration just ended on the Japanese Rooms, which house a striking collection of Samurai weaponry and gear. To celebrate the rearrangement—the first since the early 20th century—the museum is hosting a related exhibition, “Robot Fever: The Samurai in the Chogokin Era,” beginning on April 14 and held in collaboration with Florence Toy Museum.

Samurai-inspired robots at the Stibbert

For the show, which runs until September 10, some of the permanent collection’s most unusual objects will be placed in dialogue with 20th century Japanese toy robots—a playtime trend that grew out of 1970s comics and animated films featuring “super robots” in starring roles. Charged with shielding their homelands from a range of alien threats, these figures’ attributes were a throwback to those of the Samurai warriors. Grown-up geeks can explore the aesthetic influence that Stibbert-esque objects have had on prominent toy designers, while smaller learners will enjoy the spectacle of it all.

(If they’re unimpressed, snacktime in the gardens is a fail-safe alternative).


Biophilia at La Specola

If your crew can't muster up much enthusiasm for Japanese warriors, perhaps they'd prefer the woodland creatures of La Specola. (Yes, there are swimmers, too!) The via Romana museum—the oldest of its kind in Europe—is currently hosting "Biophilia", a juxtaposition of its zoological treasures with the contemporary drawings of Italian-American artist Arianna Fioratti Loreto.

A longtime lover of animals and nature, Loreto has a background in textile design, children's furniture and book illustration. "Biophilia" brings together around 90 of her ink prints, some of them site-specific, drawn after deliberate touring of La Specola for inspiration.

Apart from using the museum itself as a source of ideas, Loreto has also drawn (literally) from antique prints. She puts a contemporary spin on these primary sources by carrying out her prints using a cross hatching technique.  It's not hard to imagine Loreto's pieces hanging in a pastel-hued princess bedroom, but they're particularly impactful placed alongside the animals themselves, and may prompt aspiring artists to pick up their pencils (take a sketchbook along!)  
Loreto's approach to her work also makes a great child-friendly conversation starter: "I like to do animals that maybe not everybody loves, so not always cats, dogs, rabbits, but maybe a cassowary, or some scary lizard. It's interesting to find what people could like in such strange animals." Decide for yourself until June 18. 


Breaking down Bill Viola at Palazzo Strozzi

Ph. Andrea Paoletti

Palazzo Strozzi continues its commitment to family-oriented educational activities at current show "Bill Viola. Electronic Renaissance." Little ones won't have to make huge leaps to begin processing the video artist's work, however cryptic it may seem at first. For the duration of the exhibition, parents and children ages 7 to 12 can take part in the "Not a Word!" exercise on Sunday mornings (10.30am-12.30pm; no additional cost beyond the exhibition ticket). Groups will explore Viola's videos alongside old masterpieces, zeroing in on the expressiveness of the figures' faces and bodies across both genres. Once the visit is over, parent-child teams will take part in a themed workshop highlighting the power of body language and facial expressions, and will then have the chance to create their own works of art.

Younger museum goers (ages 3 to 6) will instead hone in on the auditory aspects of Viola's art: periodic "In the Sounds of the Wood" workshops offer families the chance to discuss the stories we can learn—or invent—simply by tuning in to our surroundings and taking cues from our ears. In an activity after the exhibition visit, groups will make their own sound creations together. For detailed dates and times, see Palazzo Strozzi's website. Booking is required for both activities; email or call 055. 2469600.


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