San Gimignano: The Contemporary Art Destination in Tuscany

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San Gimignano is known as the “city of towers” in Tuscany. It’s a medieval, walled, hilltop town that makes most first-time tourists “must see” list. They have arguably the best gelato in Italy at Gelataria Dondoli as well as charming streets, tunnels, and piazzas. It is not the kind of town one expects to find a contemporary art gallery producing challenging and exciting work like Galleria Continua. Their primary space occupies a former cinema in the center of town. You may have heard about Anish Kapoor’s perpetual black water whirlpool that was installed in the space last summer. This summer they had three temporary exhibitions (which will close soon) by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, Hans Op de Beeck, and Carlos Garaicoa.

ILYA & EMILIA KABAKOV The Arch of Life
The Arch of Life by Kavakov

We walked through the galleries and took in the view from the quiet courtyard, but I have to admit that my children were bored. I was still ruminating over Kavakovs’ “The Arch of Life,” as my children sat down to watch a slideshow of the gallery’s roster of artists and events. “Where’s that? Is there any more art?” my four year old shouted to the air. The gallery’s desk drawer slid open and keys jingled. “Do you want to see more art?” asked the staff sitting close by.

That is when the journey began, and the journey is important. Actually we had already enjoyed an enchanting journey through the city gates, up cobblestone streets, and taking in old wooden doors and charming flower boxes on our way to Galleria Continua.

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Excited, but not knowing what to expect, we followed the intern out and down and into the base of one of the old tower houses. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, noble families built over 70 tall towers in San Gimignano. Some were over 50 meters tall. Only about 14 original tower houses survive and climbing to the top of them is one of the main agenda items for tourists. That said, with two preschoolers and one pregnant adult, it was not on our list. But a sole visit to the bottom of an empty, historic tower that is thick with darkness and gracefully touched by the artwork of Hans Op de Beeck was the kind of pause that creates meaning. The sculpture of a circular pond was just barely lit in the center of the room. The artists says of his making that,  “a small gesture, a moment of silence and a reassuring thought are, especially at this time, of extreme importance for compensating ethically incomprehensible abominations.”

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Coming back onto the sunny afternoon streets, we followed the intern through the main piazza where we cleared visitors finishing their gelato to unlock a set of beautiful doors. Inside, Cuban artist, Carlos Garaicoa, installed a pile of rotting wooden beams crawling with resin termites bearing little buildings for heads. On the walls, are graphite frottage renderings made from hand chiseled, wooden models of buildings in Cuba. While the artwork is clearly rooted in a commentary on his home country, his process of construction and destruction leaves room for us to get lost. While my children searched the pile of sticks for the little bugs.

Galleria Continua has three official gallery spaces within a short walk from each other. Make sure to have gelato before and after you visit them. Tomorrow I want to tell you about one more stop we made in San Gimignano, but it deserves it’s own post!

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Links for San Gimignano:

Galleria Continua

Gelataria Dondoli

Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

Hans Op de Beeck

Carlos Garaicoa

Anish Kapoor

 

Discover new ways to look at art with one of these great children’s books:

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