Y.Z. Kami’s evocative and elusory paintings, on display at multiple venues throughout Florence for the first time, demand total presence and attention from their viewers
Until Sept. 24, Museo Novecento is displaying Light, Gaze, Presence, a selection of paintings by Iranian-American artist Y.Z. Kami, with exhibits of his work on view at several locations: Museo Novecento, Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Museo degli Innocenti and the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte.
No personal photography is permitted within the rooms containing Kami’s paintings, and the reason for this becomes clear as the viewer stands before them. Large-scale, close-up portraits of faces, slightly out of focus, are illuminated against innocuous backdrops, and they confront the viewer with arresting clarity, forcing the eyes that gaze upon them to be completely absorbed in the moment. This is not the exhibition for quick social media snapshots or fleeting observation; this is one that asks for total, undivided attention and dialogue between audience and painting, creating an emotional experience unique to each viewer. The faces depicted in Kami’s work have an evasive quality, slightly blurred, as if looking at them conjures the experience of a camera attempting to come into focus – one that comes incredibly close, but falls just short of total lucidity.
Working in conversation with the frescos and Renaissance paintings famous throughout Florence, Kami’s paintings draw inspiration from a number of historical and artistic contexts, “from references to a remote past such as the Fayum portraits to photography, from traditional Persian architecture to Renaissance architecture, from the poems of Rumi to sacred texts,” a placard outside the exhibit reads. He draws from profoundly different artistic inspirations and synthesizes them together for a distinctive, spiritual experience.
In addition to his sweeping portraits, which have earned Kami international recognition, works from his Domes and Night Paintings collections are on display. The compositions from Domes, with their hypnotic spirals and mandalic references, place the viewer into a trance as they call to mind an otherworldly, heaven-invoking atmosphere. Those from Night Paintings, with their billowy, smokey surges, envelop the audience in their indigo transience, so vibrant and one can almost feel them catching in the throat. The paintings from these collections, interspersed throughout the exhibit, offer small breaks from the imposing stillness of Kami’s portraits.
In a world in constant movement, one that values increasingly the overconsumption of content, the anxious need for the next thing; a world that rarely pauses to consider the present moment – what we can take from it, what it can take from us – Y.Z. Kami’s paintings are more necessary than ever. Standing in front of the faces elucidated in his portraits, their eyes closed in peaceful contemplation, we are asked to contemplate our proximity to his work, what it can tell us about ourselves – what it can teach us about the value of true, uninhibited presence.
From 17 February to 24 September, 2023
Y.Z. Kami – Light, Gaze, Presence
Museo Novecento, Palazzo Vecchio Museum, Museo degli Innocenti and Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte
Everyday 11:00am – 8:00pm, Closed Thursdays