Walking through Florence’s narrow streets from the Galleria dell’Accademia to the Duomo, I’ve noticed something: every twenty feet or so the ground is littered with rows of prints, twelve by eighteen-ish paper drawings.
I believe the vendors hawking these pictures are immigrants, the same that aggressively try to sell you sun umbrellas to stave off the Mediterranean heat…or not, because it’s a thousand degrees out and a little piece of fabric between you and the sun is not air-conditioning. Each seller carries the same stock of pictures and I wonder if they work together and share profits or if they are each their own individual franchise. They hover practically on top of each other, and I don’t know how they could possibly be competitive.
They line their wares up in neat rows, easily scooped up by sliding one under another, like a a deck of cards. And this card trick is often used: every time a police car rolls through the piazza. These street hustlers sweep up their stock and walk away nonchalantly, blending around the periphery of the tourists until the police disappear. Coast clear, it’s all’s fair in love and art.
Apparently, this is the black art market of Florence, something of an aesthetic turf war.
This all seems very sexy to me. These men are trying to bring art to the masses, art dealers staying one step ahead of the Man, who tries to suppress the joy and beauty and enlightenment that art engenders.
Well, it’s sexy in theory anyway.
But the art we’re talking about are cheap mass-produced drawings: various pastel views of Florence, renderings of the David.
And The Kiss by Klimt. Which happens to be in Vienna.
Oh, and a portrait of Michael Jackson.
You know, art.
Like I said, vendor after vendor has the same handful of prints, none of which has any particular aesthetic value. The landscapes of Florence are bland, and capture nothing of the soul of the city, let alone of the artist who created the drawing. As for the rest – why would you travel to Florence for a picture of Michael Jackson?
Furthermore, why would anyone buy one of these generic flimsy pieces of paper in a city that is home to a large quantity of the most astounding art ever created? Have you been to the Uffizi? Michelangelo, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Caravaggio…I get tingly just thinking about it. Talk about sexy.
Storm the museums, find something that moves you, that rocks your socks off, that touches your soul, and buy a postcard. At least when you look at it you’ll have the sense memory of how that painting or sculpture made you feel when you stood in front of it. But a colored-in line drawing of Florence? Really? That’s how you want to remember the city?
I don’t understand who buys this crap. Are tourists that lazy and thoughtless? I wonder how much they cost. Clearly there is a market for them, or more of those hustlers would be hawking the equally lame sun umbrellas.
I’m also curious about the authorities’ crackdown on these street transactions. I like to think they’re protecting people from bad art. I hope they aren’t protecting the copyright of the pseudo-artists who created these cheap prints, which have less personality than a happy little dancing tree in a Bob Ross painting.
My other hope is that the police are funnelling people who want to buy street art toward the Uffizi, whose courtyard is crowded with artists painting right before your very eyes. These artists proudly display their credentials on their little stands, paperwork that gives them the right to create out in the streets. It hangs right next to their unique, lovingly-created, warm-with-the-touch-of-humanity ART.
Yes, that’s right. You need a license to create art in Florence. I’d like to see this take global effect.
I’ll be returning to Florence several more times in the next few weeks (she says none too smugly) and I’m going to do more research into this. I’d like to clarify why these street vendors scatter like drug dealers on a Baltimore corner when the cops approach. I want to know what the penalty is for selling crappy art on the street. I overheard someone say that tourists who buy “black market” art can be fined a thousand Euros, and so they should. People should be penalized for having bad taste.
They take art pretty seriously in Florence. I do too. Maybe that’s why I find this old-fashioned, sleepy little city super sexy.