Penguin dukes and royal flamingos in Florence

Penguin dukes and royal flamingos in Florence

Wed 21 Sep 2016 1:24 PM

Strolling toward piazza Santo Spirito, there’s always so much to observe—this part of the Oltrarno is choc-a-bloc with botteghe, postcard-worthy shops and galleries, from the historic to the new. A rather recent addition to the neighborhood is Cartavetra, a gallery and cultural association which opened in 2015.

I stopped by on a September morning when people were filtering in and out of the cosy space, eager to get a glimpse of work by Svjetlan Junakovic, the Croatian artist behind the gallery’s newest exhibition, Portraits. The works on display play on an array of instantly recognisable portraits—pieces by masters like Piero della Francesca, Van Dyck and Vermeer—by substituting human faces with animal ones.

Penguin portrait, a play on Piero della Francesca's "Duke of Urbino"

Penguin portrait, a play on Piero della Francesca’s “Duke of Urbino”

The animals are surprisingly true-to-form substitutes: choices are not random, but accurately mirror the physical demeanour of the figures portrayed in the original works. The ”renewed” versions of these portraits are in Florence for the first time. Also new to Florence, and to the world, is Junakovic’s series of smoking heads (Fumatori)—created specifically for this exhibition. 

Junakovic worked as an illustrator for years, especially for children’s literature. He has been judged one of the five best children’s illustrators by the IBBY-Anderson Prize jury, not once but twice (2008 and 2010).

Looking at his somewhat naughty hippopotamus portrait, his frog doctors, and at the myriad other animal-themed works, it’s easy to see how Junakovic has earned this designation: Portraits is the kind of exhibition I could see children insisting to visit, rather than being dragged there by their parents.

I Fumatori

I Fumatori (The Smokers)

But that doesn’t mean the show is all squeaky clean. “They are, of course, provocative,” Junakovic tells me, nodding towards the Fumatori. “I started out by merely sculpting each head and experimenting with head shapes, but at some point, they all started smoking. Something about the cigarettes makes people all the more fascinated.“

Svjetlan Junakovic’s will be on display until October 22, 2016.

Via Maggio 64r, Florence

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