The Office(s) – May 2015

I’m standing in the middle of the collected Mannerist statutes on the portico of the Signoria. Across the way is Ammannati’s ill-formed giant and the ridiculous fountain that he presides over. What I’m wondering is why if it’s a fountain has it been placed there of all places – against the side corner of the Palazzo Vecchio? It’s a round fountain, meant for the middle of the square. I’m sure there’s something written about this subject, but for the moment I’ve turned off data roaming. I find out later that the fountain was an added feature. It seems that the original statute, “il Biancone”, didn’t go over so well with the public. So, it was decided to diminish the eyesore by building a waterpark. A decade later and there are lumpy bronze bodies and seahorses vying for our attention. Most times you just can’t save a bad beginning….

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There are a lot of OTT dramatics going on in the portico – gnashing teeth, flying hair, slashing swords, 7 percent body fat. I like that the Mannerist sculptors were really trying to render flesh, create a heighten reality of existence. Grasping fingers digging into a thick thigh, crows feet around a squinty eye, a rib cage pushing against skin. I know these are bravura details, but I’m a sucker for an artist with chops showing off. And to hone that point there’s the show-offs’ showoff, Cellini. We all know the story about the “single pour Perseus”, mainly because it’s the centerpiece of his autobiography. But somehow he also found the time in his Bio to brag that he chased skirts, brandished swords and escaped prisons. This made Cellini a reality star long before cable came along. His sculptures may or may not have been influential, but his bio actually did light up the imaginations of the artists that came after him. Swords were slung low on the waist, challenges were issued and taken, and a lot of OTT art was manufactured. A whole cottage industry of rude boy Mannerists found themselves getting into trouble, and not just in the studio. Later, a more infamous and better artist took Cellini’s career path a few steps further. Too bad for us Caravaggio’s swagger caught up with him in Porto Ercole. It seems there is a price for one’s hubris….

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Inside The Offices I can hardly breath. There are just too many people, and the paintings, all very dark and extremely unhappy, have begun to feel like bad news. I spend most of my time in the halls, standing next to breezy open windows and looking up at the decorative ceilings. I’m surprised that I’m enjoying the Grotesques so much. They are light and bawdy, quickly and expertly painted, filled with one-off vanity tales and self-conscious cartoon jokes. Many of them are paintings about painting with absolutely nothing taken too seriously. It’s a lesson that many of us never learn. For now it’s better to stay in the cool empty halls with my sardonic gargoyle relatives and leave the rest for the tourist aesthetes.