home CITY BEAT Jan Fabre. Spiritual Guards

Jan Fabre. Spiritual Guards


Exhibit on display at Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and Forte Belvedere until Oct. 2


The exhibition Jan Fabre. Spiritual Guards will be on display at Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio from April 15 to Oct. 2, and at the Forte Belvedere from May 14 to Oct. 2.  

With three such locations, the exhibit is one of the most complex and multifaceted  that the Flemish artist has ever produced in Italy. It is also the first time that a living artist will be expounding his art in three venues of outstanding historical and artistic importance at once.  

About 100 pieces produced from 1978 to 2016 will be showcased, including bronze and wax sculptures, performance films and works made of wing cases of the jewel scarab.  

The opening will take place on the morning of April 15, when two bronze sculpture specifically produced for this exhibit will be exposed and presented by Fabre himself in Piazza della Signoria. The first, large sculpture is entitled Searching for Utopia and will interact with the equestrian monument to Grand Duke Cosimo I, a Renaissance masterpiece by Giambologna. The second, called The man who measures the clouds (American version, 18 years older), will stand on the Arengario outside Palazzo Vecchio between the copies of Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith.  

Both works identify the artist as knight and guardian, as a mediator between heaven and earth and between natural and spiritual forces. Opposite to the art of Piazza della Signoria, which exalts political and financial power with its marble giants (the David, Hercules and Neptune) and its biblical, mythological and local figures (Judith, Perseus and the Marzocco Lion of Florence), Fabre’s work embodies the power of imagination and the mission of the artist as “spiritual guard.”  

Fabre refers to the human body, its fragility, and its possible defense. His art is conceived in the name of beauty, as an ‘exercise’ in which we all celebrate life as a preparation for death, while his fascination with the human body and for science dates back to his youth, a period from which, influenced by the research entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915), the Belgian artist’s favorite activity was to examine the insects and other animals by dissecting their bodies and turning them into new creatures. In his conception of metamorphosis, the existence of man and animals interact continuously, the creation of various types of bodies in their transformations being dictated by the natural cycle of growth and decay.

The works on display at Palazzo Vecchio include a 2.5 metres in diameter globe, totally clad in iridescent beetle wing cases, which will be interacting with the globe in the Sala delle Mappe geografiche made by Ignazio Danti in the 16th century.

The exhibition at the Forte Belvedere will be inaugurated on May 14. On showcase will be about sixty works of art in bronze and in wax, along with a series of films focusing on some of the artist’s historic performances.  

The fortress served to defend Florence from outside attack but to protect the Medici family in troubled times, thus being a stronghold for both external and internal defense. This suggests a journey through the life, the ambitions and the woes of the powerful Medici lords and alluding to opposing human perceptions and sensations such as control and abandonment, but also to opposing needs and desires such as armed protection and spiritual elan, so deep and so deep-rooted as to influence the form of architecture and the configuration of natural space.

These ambiguities, symbolizing the entire experience and vitality of mankind, will be represented by two sculptural alignments consisting in seven bronze scarabs placed on the fort’s lookout posts and a series of full-figure self-portraits of the artist.

The exhibition’s motto and device, Spiritual Guards, should be interpreted as an encouragement to live a heroic life, be it in war or unarmed in defence of the imagination and of beauty.

Throughout the years, Fabre’s works have been shown in many exhibitions in Florence. Two of his bronze busts from the Chapters series are permanently exposed at the Uffizi since 2012. He also received the Michelangelo Award for sculpture in the second edition of the Settimana Michelangiolesca in 2015.


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