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Contemporary art in the heart of Tuscany

Join us in our tour through the towns of San Gimignano, Volterra, Colle Val d’Elsa and Poggibonsi

Across the years, many contemporary artists have been captivated by the spectacular naturalistic and historical settings of the towns of San Gimignano, Volterra, Colle Val d’Elsa and Poggibonsi and have decided to leave their mark behind. We’re talking about internationally renowned artists: the likes of Cai Guo-Qiang, Antony Gormley and Kiki Smith, just to name a few. Join us in our tour and discover the top contemporary art must-sees in the very heart of Tuscany. Enjoy!

Poggibonsi

While wandering around in Poggibonsi, you will come across seven site-specific “pixelated” sculptures by Antony Gormley that are part of the project Fai Spazio/Prendi Posto, or Making Space/Taking Place. Inaugurated within the wider framework of Arte all’Arte in 2004-05, Gormley’s works then became permanent installations. The most intriguing fact is that these are seven cast iron body forms of people from Poggibonsi, so you’ll definitely notice that they are all different from each other.

A few tips: you will bump into one of the sculptures at the train station of Poggibonsi and another when you visit the Medici Fortress of Poggio Imperiale Fortress. Here is a detailed map.

Poggibonsi’s very own Medici Fortress is also home to the Blue Girl, the first in a series of three sculptures by Kiki Smith that we’re going to encounter on this tour. The three of them represent a young girl sitting on a chair, surrounded by small amphoras apparently suspended in the air.

Our last stop in Poggibonsi is the so-called Fonte delle Fate, or Fairies’ Spring. Since 1998, its calm waters and its massive structure have watched over I Dormienti, or The Sleepers, as they snooze. They’re a series of bronze sculptures by Mimmo Paladino.

The pixelated sculpture by Antony Gormley set in Poggibonsi’s Piazza Cavour
The pixelated sculpture by Antony Gormley set in Poggibonsi’s Piazza Cavour
Colle Val d’Elsa

Globally renowned for its refined crystals, Colle Val d’Elsa teems with noteworthy examples of contemporary art. Our tour starts from the very central Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio, the main square of the modern part of Colle that was recently renovated at the hands of French architect Jean Nouvel and his atelier. During work on the square, the team uncovered the old millstream, known as “gora” in Italian, and has embellished the square with a new fountain and a visually striking pavement.

Jean Nouvel also designed the elevator connecting the more modern (and lower) part of Colle with the historical centre, perched on top of a higher hill, and worked on the building with roof gardens together with Gilles Clément.

Last but not least, the tunnel leading to the above mentioned elevator hosts the second sculpture by Kiki Smith we run into in this article, namely the Red Girl. Fun fact: the three Girls by Kiki Smith were first put on display in 2010 under the arcades of the San Francesco Bridge, as part of the UMoCA project.

Pro tip: Poggibonsi and Colle Val d’Elsa are connected by a 7 kilometre long cycling-pedestrian path, so that you can reach Poggibonsi by train together with your bicycle from, for example, Florence or Siena, and then freely move from one town to the other along this path.

As far as contemporary architecture is concerned, we must mention the new headquarters building of the renowned bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena designed by Giovanni Michelucci back in 1983, with its impressive red coloured metal structure.

Additionally, Colle Val d’Elsa boasts many artworks donated across the years in occasion of the various editions of the projects Arte all’Arte and UMoCA – Under Museum of Contemporary Art (this last one personally managed by Cai Guo-Qiang). Just to name a few examples, Marisa Merz revamped the door of the old public cistern, the architect Alberto Garutti contributed with the renovation of a sixteenth-century building (nowadays home to the renowned Vincenzo Bellini Chorus), while the UMoCA letters still stand out on a side of the San Francesco Bridge.

Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio in Colle Val d’Elsa
Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio in Colle Val d’Elsa
San Gimignano

You might think that time seems to have stopped in the so called Manhattan of the Middle ages, but it definitely hasn’t! From the Galleria Continua to the Modern and contemporary art Gallery, not to mention the permanent installations related to the projects Affinità and, again, Arte all’Arte, San Gimignano exhibits lots of contemporary artworks.

The Galleria Continua is a gallery dedicated to contemporary art that was founded in 1990 by Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo in the rooms of a former cinema, set in the very heart of the historical centre. Since then, the Galleria has fostered the dialogue and symbiosis between “unexpected geographies”: rural and industrial, local and global, art from the past and art of today, famous and emerging artists. Speaking of names, let us mention (among others) Anish Kapoor, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Daniel Buren, Kader Attia and Leila Alaoui. Starting from May 13 2017, the Galleria Continua hosts the exhibitions “Co-Ordinate” by Antony Gormley, “In this Vesse Lies the Philosopher’s Stone” by Subodh Gupta and “Declaración Publica” by Alejandro Campins.

Secondly, the Modern and contemporary art Gallery “Raffaele De Grada” vaunts numerous paintings by De Grada himself, who chose San Gimignano as his home, and works by twentieth-century painters such as Niccolò Cannicci, Renato Guttuso, Sergio Vacchi and Ugo Nespolo.

While strolling through the streets of San Gimignano, make sure you spot the many permanent installations scattered around. Here you’ll find an interactive map to arrive well prepared.

As promised, our contemporary art tour of San Gimignano ends with a visit to the Yellow Girl, the third sculpture of a girl by Kiki Smith, which you’ll encounter within the premises of the Parco della Rocca. Are you wondering why the sculptures have been named Blue, Red and Yellow Girl? Well, they differ from each other only in the colour of the dress, now you know!

“Le grand miroir du monde” by Kader Attia in the auditorium hall of the Galleria Continua, in San Gimignano
“Le grand miroir du monde” by Kader Attia in the auditorium hall of the Galleria Continua, in San Gimignano
Volterra

The last stop of our trip in the heart of Tuscany is Volterra, the town of alabaster. Here, you should definitely find some time to explore the countryside and discover the Staccioli route.

A dozen of the majestic site-specific environmental artworks by Mauro Staccioli, native of Volterra and renowned as one of the fathers of contemporary art, are scattered all around in the surroundings of the town. Such minimalist geometric sculptures perfectly melt with the rolling hills that characterize the area and let us enjoy pretty unique views. Just so you know, it’s the perfect setting for anyone passionate about photography!

Visit the website of Be Tuscan For a Day, a branch of Terre di Siena, and discover many different thematic itineraries to experience the Val d’Elsa area and the territory of Volterra in a unique way.

If you want to know more about contemporary art in our region, read our article “Contemporary art in Tuscany”.

La Boldria 2009 by Mauro Staccioli, in the surroundings of Volterra
La Boldria 2009 by Mauro Staccioli, in the surroundings of Volterra - Credit: _erreo0__ on Instagram
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Art and Culture