By Anna Souter – Writer
Jeff Koons in Florence’ brings a unique dose of contemporary art to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Koons’ Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun) (2010) has been installed in the Room of the Lilies in the Palazzo Vecchio, once the beating heart of the Florentine Republic. The work is a plaster cast of a provocatively nude ancient Roman sculpture, with the addition of a blue reflective glass sphere or “gazing ball”. The naked faun sits opposite Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes (1460), legs apart as if in some sort of sensual challenge to the virtuous Judith. She seems to be looking straight at him, entranced either by his nudity or by the lustrous “gazing ball” on his lap.
Outside in the Piazza della Signoria, a new sculpture has been introduced in close proximity to the copy of the David for the first time since Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus was unveiled in 1534. Koons’ Pluto and Proserpina (2010-2013) is a large work inspired by Bernini’s 1622 masterpiece The Rape of Proserpina. Crafted from mirror-polished steel with a green-gold coating, and featuring live flowering plants, Koons’ work cuts a brash, confrontational and controversial figure in the Piazza della Signoria. Inevitably, it will not be to everyone’s taste. Koons constantly challenges the viewer’s preconceptions about materials and their properties. The shiny metal surface offers a sharp contrast to the smooth marble of the David replica at its side. Whereas the David is illuminated by light and shadow, confirming its weighty presence, the mastery of Koons’ sculpture lies in the way in which changing light seems to dissolve the form of the work. The highly reflective surface responds to variations in weather, light and the movement of people in the piazza, forming and reforming before the viewer’s eyes. The work defies the cameras of tourists as it defies the viewer’s gaze, and this is a powerful message which speaks both to its Renaissance context and to Florence’s tourist trade today.