Spam non-exhibit poster from

It’s not easy to do street art in Florence. And there’s not a lot of it. Keep your eyes open and you get to know the few players there are. There’s Clet and his modified street signs and Bue with his gesso masks. And then, occasionally, you see some paste art. Just a bit of rain and it’s gone, so it’s a pretty respectful form, excellent for social commentary (as encouraged by this year’s Ted prize winner, paste artist JR).

Thanks to Clet’s facebook fan page I found out about Spam, an anonymous a collective or a single person who is responsible for much of the paste art around this city. Spam’s work makes strong statements about dis-information in mass media, generally with commentary on current political issues or the general situation in Italy. The visual language used is jarring, stark black and white images of mutated bodies with tv’s superimposed on heads and accusatory slogans. Posters have been pasted not only on walls but on the pavement and in fountains. On one occasion, for-sale signs were put up in broad daylight on major monuments (with light, unharmful tape, not with glue). For excellent photos of past pieces see Gold blog.

Yesterday, in an alley just steps from Ponte Vecchio, Spam installed 193 works. This first (non) exhibit, unauthorized of course, was announced the day before in a (non) press conference and comprises a compendium of previous Spam works as well as some new ones. If you’re interested you’d better go see it before the police get wind of it. It’s all over facebook by now.

Like all street artists, Spam works against the institution, so with this (non) exhibit, Spam criticizes art galleries and museums. An entry sign on the main street and a “title” pasted near the entry mock the typical set up in a gallery. I’d have liked to see a more consistent reference of this sort in the rest of the display, with labels and freshly painted walls that would surprise the visitor who would never expect to see this (but who does expect “graffiti”) in a dark alley.

Spam very nicely sent me press material and photos so that I could write this post, so I don’t feel like I should be critical. All of the press on their site is entirely positive. Nonetheless I have to say it: visually, I don’t much like this work. But conceptually, it’s making important statements in an Italy that is too insensitive to or ignorant of much of what is going on. I see informative art in surprising places in projects like “fuorilegge chi beve,” a crowd-participatory installation of non-invasive hanging signs on fountains around last June’s water referendum; “lo studio nuoce gravemente alla regime,” a true statement printed on flyers placed in 200 books in two libraries in Florence; and even “Big Brother” which decorated the luxurious WC of the Accademia delle Belle Arti (the first art attack, and a possible hint as to the training of said artist/s?).

When it comes to pasting on walls, they use materials that are easily biodegradable and don’t damage the wall or paint, so one really can’t complain about urban degradation. Of the pasted works, I particularly like those that play with the concept of windows, two or more pieces of paper interacting with each other.

On the other hand, I’d like to see more monumental pieces that use beauty more than shock value to attract the viewer. The non-exhibit is a first step in this direction, and I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Street art in Florence is a positive and necessary sign of an urban center that is actually alive and contemporary. Recently we’ve seen more authorized manifestations to encourage this “rebirth” (such as the many events at Le Murate, including motion art and talks organized by FFF), but unauthorized creations are also a necessary ingredient. There may be enough street culture here to count examples on the fingers of one hand, but you can hear Florence raising its head and saying, to quote Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet!”.

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