The exhibition “Corpo a Corpo” opened in October at the Villa Bardini Museum, in Florence Italy featuring some of the most excellent contemporary realist works by 35 international artists.
On an unseasonably warm October evening, after a steep climb up the hill of Montecuccoli, the sound of laughter and conversation drew my eyes to the Villa Bardini, its rose-colored exterior even pinker under the setting sun. On this terrace high above the city of Florence stood a large gathering, wine glasses in hand, smartly dressed, many with traces of oil paint beneath their fingernails, remnants from the day’s struggle. There was an air of excitement, as though everyone could envision their future selves recalling the important event and proudly declaring that they were there. This was the night that “Corpo a Corpo” opened.
With the beginning of the 20th-century, representational figurative art disappeared from the focus of the mainstream art scene in the western world. For almost 30 years, Florence has been home to academies, schools and ateliers frequented by artists from all over the world, hoping to rediscover technical training in the field of painting and sculpture. Although contemporary figurative art is still underrepresented in many of the museums and galleries of Italy, the exhibition in the Villa Bardini sets an exceptional milestone in representing excellent quality painting and sculpture.
Coordinated by Professor Carlo Sisi, chairman of the Accademia delle belle arti of Florence, and curated by Daniela Astone and Gaia Grazioli, “Corpo a Corpo” showcases works by 35 contemporary figurative artists from 12 different countries (Australia, United States, China, Russia, Greece, Spain, Poland, Israel, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden and Italy). All of the artists were trained either in Florence or at schools in their native countries that focused on classical arts education.
The title means ‘Body-to-body’ which suggests close-range hand-to-hand combat. Metaphorically speaking, it is an action that synthesizes our daily struggle with ourselves, confronting life in all its complexity, and in this sense, it appears both violent and poetic—an apt title that represents the struggle of the artist and their personal journey of exploration, aimed always at achieving excellence.
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Among the exceptional art exhibited was work from Maudie Brady, of Australian origin, and a current sculpture instructor at the Florence Academy. Her piece titled ‘Being’ was the centerpiece for the main exhibition space, and immediately drew my attention. The 90cm bronze figure is a beautiful and tender piece, a figure that appears to be simultaneously coming into and out of existence. Brady has created something transient out of a finite material, and pushed the boundaries of classical sculpture, creating a piece that speaks to the viewer on a primordial level.
Also featured was New Masters Academy instructor Ben Fenske for his painting “Summer Afternoon.” This 100cm x 120cm piece is filled with sunshine and light. A window into an idyllic life in the Tuscan countryside. The vivacity of the brushstrokes creates the impression that the painting is alive and moving as your eyes travel between the figures. The closer you stand to the painting the more broken the brush marks become. It is a painting that you can spend a lot of time with. Here is a new form of Impressionism of poetry and artistic feeling.
The collection of works felt inclusive and representative of the many styles evolving within the academic figurative arts today. The union of which was a defiant voice from a tradition that many believed to be dying out and marked the rebirth of a new era of figurative arts. It is fitting that it should be held in the Villa Bardini that has itself been rescued many times from the brink of ruin.
Attending this event I couldn’t help but hope that this marks the beginning of a greater trend of recognition and sets a successful example for other galleries and museums to follow.
“Corpo a Corpo” is exhibiting until the 12th of January at the Villa Bardini. Following the exhibition are a number of cultural events including painting demonstrations and talks with the artists. The schedule may be found here (https://www.villabardini.it/en/events/).