Palazzo Pitti hosts the first solo exhibition in Italy by Wang Guangyi, a globally renowned Chinese artist.
From 6 September to 10 December, the Medici palace will host 28 works by the celebrated Chinese artist, some of which have never been exhibited in the West: at the end of the exhibition, the author’s self-portrait will become part of the Galleries’ collection.
What is hidden in the reassuring familiarity of domestic environments, in the shadows of spaces linked to the intimacy of everyday life? Can the repetitiveness of everyday actions be interpreted as an almost religious ritual? These and other disturbing questions are posed in the exhibition Obscured Existence (Palazzo Pitti, 6 September to 10 December 2023).
The exhibition in Florence, consisting of 28 paintings by Wang Guangyi, is a step-by-step journey through four distinct cycles, which investigate what really lies behind the rituality of everyday gestures and the use of the most common objects. At the same time, the works also explore how one’s culture of origin influences the perception of a work of art.
The journey opens with Daily Life, paintings focusing on the intimacy of small, everyday gestures performed by each of us. In this first series, Wang Guangyi portrays himself in moments of private life, alone, defenceless in front of his own corporeity; the repetitiveness of the ordinary almost takes on the significance of a ritual, while the mechanical pace of habit is charged with a sacred aura. In these unconcerned moments, man is able to reconnect with himself: protected by what the artist calls ‘power structures’, the individual actions that take place in a private space are fissures in the ‘naked life’, the part of each person still immune to interpretation.
Just as when reading a book, the meaning of the narration is revealed as the reading progresses, in the Ritual series (which composes the second cycle) the fragility of the human figure gives way to the inaccessible mobility of the object. Stripped of its usual connotation, it becomes a symbol of a secret and personal liturgy, a trace of a meaning that surpasses the thing, arousing contrasting sensations. In Ritual No. 3, for example, the artist protects an ordinary white ceramic toilet bowl with a red cord supported by two brass columns, the typical separator used in museums or sacred places. Two opposing feelings arise from this paradox: the anxiety due to the knowledge that any place can be declared inaccessible, and the smile due to the fact that an object of undoubted ordinariness is being protected. In this meeting of feelings, according to the artist, thought is spurred on and thus the awareness of existence.
Don’t miss out on the best current and upcoming exhibits.
10 must-visit museums in Florence
What Not to Miss at the Uffizi Gallery: 10 Masterpieces.
The concept of the exhibition is fully revealed with the Obscured Existence series, which also gives its title to the whole concept behind it. Using an ancient Chinese painting technique, the Wu Lou Hen, Wang Guangyi floods his figures with a thick drip that erases their ordinary appearance to reveal a dark, mystical, elusive soul. Determined to demonstrate how different social systems lead to a different understanding of the world, the painter delves into Western iconography, describing the forms of the Christian tradition through a language that is foreign to them, oriental and personal.
In Enlarged Medusa, inspired by Caravaggio’s shield preserved in the Uffizi Galleries, the artist overlays the image with a peculiar nine-square grating, a heritage from the Chinese tradition, which reduces the aesthetic perception of the original and diminishes its emotional intensity. As a result, observers, displaced by the imprisonment of Medusa’s head, find themselves having to visually ‘climb over’ Caravaggio’s famous painting, to grab instead the truth hidden in the work.
The exhibition closes with the cycle The shadow of memory, which documents what remains of our passage in the memory of a place. Finally, it should be noted that Wang Guangyi’s self-portrait, at the end of the exhibition, will be donated to the Galleries, thus becoming part of the world’s largest and most prestigious museum collection of this type of work.
FROM 7 SEPTEMBER TO 10 DECEMBER