Mission Impossible? Finding Contemporary Art in Tuscany

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The morning started with yet another disappointment. Pulling the Calendar section out of the thick of the L.A. Times I moaned, "Oh, please, not again." Dominating the front page, where readers used to be able to find news about art and culture, here it was: color photographs of sweaty, scantily-clad girls fighting in a boxing ring. Taking up most of the space on an inside page, the article continues with four more graphic color photos of violent girl on girl fight scenes. Thank God someone had the decency to squeeze on the front page a tiny photograph of Elia Kazan, who died Sunday at the age of 94.

But let's be fair. Over the last few months, L.A. Times' coverage of art and culture, at least in its Sunday issue, has significantly improved. And this past Sunday, L.A. Times Magazine devoted a whole issue to the subject of living with art, providing valuable advice on what to collect and how to collect, protect and display art objects. The only qualm I have is the predictable emphasis on the familiar suspects--wealthy collectors and major art dealers photographed with their art in sleek, spacious and obviously quite expensive homes. But this is not the whole story. I know a number of people in Los Angeles who are passionate about art and who collect it on a modest budget. If only L.A. Times would do better homework and go beyond the beaten path, it would be able to give its readers the sense that the joy of art collecting is not only the province of the rich and famous.

But old habits die hard. We are all guilty of hanging onto familiar patterns of thought. For almost a year I've been trying to get information about the Contemporary Art scene in Tuscany, especially in Florence. People have been telling me, "Contemporary Art in Florence? Edward, you're out of your mind." And probably they are right.

Three years ago I spent the better part of a month in Florence doing the most predictable thing: basking in the ancient glory of the city and taking in the beauty of its Medieval and Renaissance art and culture. Not once did I encounter a contemporary artwork or exhibition worth mentioning. Ever since my return to L.A., I've been thinking about the heavy price the citizens of Florence must pay for the luxury of living surrounded by the overwhelming beauty of their city. Depending on your point of view, one could think of them as either custodians, or prisoners, of the past.

Somehow, I refuse to accept the common belief that the fertile soil of Tuscany, with its capitol Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, no longer produces worthwhile art. For centuries, the creativity of the Tuscan architects, sculptors and painters was unparalleled in the Western world. Could it be that the glory of the past completely emasculates any contemporary artist who dares to live and work in Florence? I started to ask around and was lucky enough to be introduced to a few people with firsthand knowledge of Florence and its cultural life. The most encouraging information came from the former American Consul in Florence who now teaches political science at the University of California-San Diego. She generously provided me with a list of artists, collectors and dealers in Tuscany that I hope to visit when I go there next week. Hope against hope, my mission will be to prove that good contemporary art is still being produced under the Tuscan sun. Stay tuned to find out about the success or failure of my mission.