Internationally-renowned Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos introduces three of her most important works to Florence in an exhibition that spans both the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Pitti from October 7 to January 14, 2024.
Vasconcelos’ first exhibition in Florence, Between Sky and Heart, sees traditional perceptions of femininity recast in an innovative and powerful way. The three works on display are diverse in material, scale and subject, but share the common objective of reframing traditional and outdated female narratives through irony and paradox, something that the Uffizi has been striving to achieve through a broader project that began in 2016.
The first work in Palazzo Pitti, Marilyn, presents a gargantuan pair of high heels, modelled on those worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film, The Seven Year Itch. The iconic symbol of glamour and female sensuality dominates the room, with their size and shine overpowering even the ornate decoration of the Sala Bianca. It is at this point that viewers will notice they are constructed entirely from polished stainless steel saucepans and lids. By using a symbol of female relegation to the domestic sphere, Vasconcelos overturns ideas of women’s place in society and uses the contrast between material and form to explain this over-arching objective of her mission as an artist.
The theme continues in the adjoining hall, the Sala di Bona, which is now visible for the first time since the completion of renovations in 2022. At the centre of the room, the sculpture, titled Happy Family, shows concrete models of Bacchus and Flora, adorned with delicate lace stitching, reminiscent of woven doilies. The doll suspended between them completes the nuclear family, which aims to reinterpret the Holy Family, with Mary and Joseph replaced by pagan gods. With the concrete representing strength and masculinity, and the fine stitching alluding to femininity and, once again, the historic confinement of women to the domestic sphere, the work allows onlookers to reflect on their coexistence.
The final work is exhibited in the Tribune of the Uffizi Gallery and confronts visitors with a large-scale sculpture suspended from the ceiling, decorated with a multiplicity of fabrics and embellishments. The sculpture aims to embody the Valkyrie, female warriors from Norse mythology that lend the work its name. Similar to Happy Family, Royal Valkyrie sees decorative fabric used to remind observers of the historic marginalization of women, while the scale and dominance of the room pushes against this narrative.
Vasconcelos’ work is a fresh reinterpretation of traditional perceptions of women and provides a uniquely creative display of female power. While harnessing irony and humour, the show pays careful attention to how viewers are confronted by these themes, eliciting dialogue and reflection.