Through the eyes of Oliviero Toscani

Alyssa Cadue
April 30, 2008

When you hear the name ‘Oliviero Toscani’, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? The shock artist who constantly approaches societal issues head on? The visionary who breathes new life into contemporary art? The guy in the bright red glasses?


One thing is for sure: whatever you know or think you know about Olivero Toscani can always be updated, revived and reborn. His talent and artistic expression are timeless, as visitors to the art gallery on the campus of Syracuse University in Florence can see for themselves through May 31.


In the entrance of SUF’s gallery, the brilliant colors, beautiful faces and brutal honesty of Toscani’s works embrace the viewer from all angles. Many of the images are the result of Toscani’s 18-year advertising collaboration with Italian clothing company Benetton. In one of his most controversial Benetton ads, to raise awareness about AIDS, Toscani photographed a series of condoms in various colors. The image of a pair of dirty, blood-stained camouflage pants and t-shirt decries war.


Also included in the exhibition are several cover pages from Toscani’s self-launched magazine, Colors. Among the thought-provoking photos are images that aim to raise awareness about anorexia and homosexuality. Top magazines such as Elle and Harper’s Bazaar have stepped out of the confines of high fashion to work with Toscani on many controversial issues. One exceptionally powerful scene published in Elle is a group of female models wrapped in bandages, demonstrating the aftermath of plastic surgery. Ironically, the bandages seem to imprison these women in self-inflicted cruelty rather than heal them, as the widespread ideals of beauty would lead us to believe they might.


The exhibit also features Toscani’s series of wall-sized photographs of several prisoners on death row in American prisons. The project, entitled ‘We, On Death Row’, includes the commentary from inmates as they spoke, in interviews, about being tormented by their looming death sentences. Walk around the rooms: it is impossible to avoid each man’s face. In prisons, inmates are hidden from society; here, they are on centre stage. The subjects literally have their eyes on you at all times. According to Nissan Patel, an architecture major at SUF, ‘The prison series was very striking. It shows a side of prisoners that society does not take into account. The writing and the prisoners’ quotes about their philosophies and outlooks on life made the piece for me’.


Those fortunate enough to attend a public lecture on April 2 heard Toscani discuss his views in ‘Art in the Service of Power: Ethics and Social Responsibility in Adverstising’.  However, the exhibit includes a video presentation about Toscani.



The SUF Gallery, via dei della Robbia, 99, H: Thu. to Sat. from 5 to 8pm, until May 31st. free entrance info 055/03131

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