The International School of Florence is working closely with the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi on a collaborative project that connects students directly to the rich heritage and contemporary culture of Florence, taking learning out of the classroom and into the historic city in the spirit of helping students engage the world and the community around them.
Led by Palazzo Strozzi educational and public programs manager Alessio Bertini, a number of ISF students have been researching the art and artists exhibited at the new show, American Art 1961-2001, learning how to become docents to spark dialogue with the public on a special night at the central Florence arts centre.
“For Palazzo Strozzi, the partnership with ISF is an opportunity to better understand how youngsters and students can help us to co-create activities and experiences for other publics,” commented Bertini. “Leading most of the meetings remotely because of the limitations caused by the pandemic has been a major challenge for everyone, but these restrictions make the direct experience of artworks and spaces of the exhibition even more stimulating and meaningful, which is one of the project’s main goals.”
Running through August 29, the exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi explores some of the most important American artists from the 1960s to the 2000s, in partnership with The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Providing a new perspective on the history of contemporary art in the United States, the show brings together a selection of more than 80 works by celebrated artists including Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Bruce Nauman, Barbara Kruger, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and Kara Walker. The much-awaited exhibition examines key figures and movements that marked the development of American art between two major historical moments: the beginning of the Vietnam War and the 9/11 attack, from Pop Art to Minimalism, from Conceptual Art to the Pictures Generation, and including more recent artistic developments in the 1990s and 2000s. It proposes an unprecedented reinterpretation of 40 years of history, exploring the rapid evolution of modern and contemporary art through its shifting boundaries, merging of different techniques and media, and foregrounding the role of art as a powerful tool for addressing such topics as consumerism, mass production, feminism and gender identity, racial issues, and the struggle for civil rights.
“The United States of America represents a complex melting pot of different cultures, traditions and identities: one of the historical prototypes of contemporary democracy that still today contains deep social, racial and gender contradictions,” says curator Vincenzo de Bellis. “Art allows us to be able to tell the stratifications of such a complex society. And this is what the American Art 1961-2001 exhibition aims to do, conceived as a story through the many artistic expressions of the USA.”
Developing character traits of commitment, courage and resilience over months of meetings and assignments in developing their knowledge and presentation skills, the collaboration offers ISF students the chance not only to reflect on and value the purpose, meaning and complexities of the art and artists, but also help bridge a variety of experiences and comfort levels in the viewing public to help the exhibit become accessible and engaging for all. The culminating experience for ISF students will see them act as official guides for visitors to the exhibition; around 120 members of our school community will attend a viewing open to the public on June 11. In keeping with the school’s new mission and vision, this partnership is one of many that ISF wishes to build in Florence.
“The partnership with Palazzo Strozzi has offered a truly unique learning opportunity for ISF students,” elucidated Morgan Fiumi, an ISF board member. “It has been a pleasure witnessing the students involved not only learn about the extraordinary works on exhibit, but also learn to appreciate and talk about art through creative expression and active engagement.”
Teacher coordinator Andi Nufer notes that the most valuable aspect of the project is that the students “learn to listen to the art and, specifically, the words of the artists in order to help others understand the meaning and the purpose of these works, which often go far beyond our initial surface impressions or reactions”.
Indeed, the students are enthused about the opportunity to attain real world insight into the art exhibition world. “It is a very unique experience that revealed what happens behind the scenes at an art exhibition and how to think from a perspective of a guide,” commented student Alisiya Ermolenko, while fellow pupil Jack Bach remarked, “Being part of the Strozzi Project has given me the opportunity to work face to face with incredibly noteworthy and influential artworks that I otherwise would have only read about in a book.”
In other ISF art news
The Aula Magna of ISF’s Upper School is undergoing transformation, in partnership with Exit Enter. The local street artist is working with a group of students to paint street art with Florentine references, such as the giglio, Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo, on the walls of the community campus space. The end result is a blue and red tribute to Florence and its contemporary artistic legacy.