The 9th of January, 2018 was the day Gucci Garden in Florence was opened to the public, bringing about some novelties compared to the earlier narrative, or more accurately creating a new space that moves along the frontier between fiction and palpable reality. BY IRISZ MAÁR.
The concept of the exhibition is linked to the new creative director of the brand, Alessandro Michele, who hired the world renowned chef, Massimo Botturá, to lead the restaurant inside, and commissioned Maria Luisa Fridá, the acclaimed fashion expert teaching at the faculty of Fashion Design and Multimedia Art of the Iuav University in Venice to curate the exhibition.
The exhibition defines itself based on Walter Benjamin’s approach to history, namely that the past, the present and the future are not subsequent stations on a linear itinerary, they converge or diverge, but definitely communicate with one another, mutually influence one another. The exhibition, accordingly, comes about from the conjoined texts of the past, the present and the future.
It is linked to history – starting with the Latin names of most of the rooms, emphasising the Roman roots of Italian culture, and thereby the significance of the brand in Italian history – to art history, to the history of philosophy, to literature, to the whole of culture at the end of the day. It reinforces the notion that the creation of our self-representation is also a product of culture, and hence we create ourselves or are created on the border of fiction and our natural being as well, and this border is vague and hard to decipher. So as our self-representation can be seen as a form of art, we can enter Gucci Garden, the space moving between our everyday experiences and imagination.
The exhibition consists of six rooms, and six is also the number of volumes in De rerum natura of Lucretius, the name of which was given to the fourth room. According to a statement by Alessandro Michele, the naming convention is part of a new dictionary being conceived in his head that will reorganize the history of the brand.
The first room puts the history of the GG trademark born in the 1970s in the spotlight. One of the exhibits is the linen dress from 1973, on which the GG logo is formed by two dolphins grabbing each other, and the silk shirt and silk skirt also from the 1970s, on which the GG logo is inscribed in little boxes. The background of all this is the installation by Trevor Andrews, presented to the world via Instagram by Alessandro Michele. Andrews was commissioned to design the famous Gucci Ghost collection. The present tense of Instagram, the garments from different eras and their reinterpretation reflect and explain one another. Trevor Andrews sheds a new playful-elegant light on the initials of the founder of the brand through ghosts, aliens, supernatural phenomena and their parodies. Wall drawings reminiscent of graffiti evoke the punk age of Gucci in the eighties. The first room bears the name Guccification, a word on loan from the Gucci fans who use Instagram, which signifies the new narrative as outlined above and the process that resulted in Gucci products becoming „talking surfaces” by the 1970s. The newest creations of Alessandro Michele are also on display here, for example the wool coat from 2016 embroidered with floral motifs, that speaks to us not only through the language of patterns and fabrics, but also with the words inscribed in the lining.
The second room, Paraphernalia, reaches back to Roman law. The word signified the property of the woman beyond the dowry – clothing, jewellery, accessories – over which the husband could not dispose without the wife’s consent. In a broader sense this is the name of the group of objects belonging to a topic. The room sets both meanings in motion. A predominant item is the picture of Domenico Induno – Fantino con bambina – that depicts a soldier in a red jacket on horseback and a little girl in an autumn landscape, and indeed, in accordance with the autumn theme. What we see in the room are the items of Gucci’s creative directors, garments and accessories mainly from the autumn-winter collections, such as Alessandro Michele’s over-the-top, crystal embroidered mask from 2016 that Rihanna wore at the Coachella music festival, Tom Ford’s 1996 jersey evening dress, and Frida Giannini’s 2007 silk evening dress with embroidery and bridle-buckles. The room also tells the tale of origin of the other famous trademark of Gucci, the green-red-green ribbon of the 1950s, called the Web, which was inspired by the band holding the saddle in place. Befittingly, equestrian motifs playing a vital role in the history of the brand are also highlighted in the room. Induno’s painting is furthermore important due to the significance of the painter in Italian history: he plyed an important role in the Risorgimento movement that unified Italy, a fact that is stressed in the caption beside the picture, thereby continuing the series of symbols reinforcing the significance of the brand in Italian history.
The space of the third room is organized around the picture of the lift attendant projected onto the wall. As a teenager Guccio Gucci worked as a lift boy In the Savoy Hotel in London. Once back home, he started manufacturing suitcases in 1921, using the lift boy as a trademark. This was later replaced by a suitcase carrying knight in armour. The room bears the name Cosmorama. Through the suitcases picnic baskets, dressing cases it symbolizes the journey around the globe that Gucci took over the decades, and moreover stresses the cosmopolitan lifestyle typical of a loyal Gucci customer.
De rerum nature. The first two rooms of the upper floor gives us a selection of Gucci’s collections that were inspired by the two faces of nature, its beauty and the fear it puts into us. (Jayde Fish makes good use of that too in her pictures that can be seen on the walls of two separate rooms beside the gallery.) The motifs play a defining role in the history of the brand, and are always reinterpreted. The rethinking of fox fur and the zebra motif dominate this room, along with the prints of the famous book illustrator, Vittorio Accornero, that served as a basis for the well-known silk scarfs with floral and animal patterns. This room attaches itself to the study of the history of natural sciences: through two 3D telescopes we can see for instance the science historical studies of David Thomas Hurst or William Friese-Greene’s picture of a bathing Bengal tiger.
The next room is dedicated to the Flora motif and its afterlife. It was Vittorio Accornero’s first commission form Gucci, and the client was none other than Grace Kelly. Projected flowers entwine on the wall, animated butterflies and birds take flight from them, and we hear the latter’s chirping while wondering through the room, observing the objects that interpret one another.
The last room was named Ephemera. Here we see historically significant objects connected to the brand that were doomed to be ephemeral – hence the name of the room –, to be swallowed up by time. For they either became unnecessary once they had served their purpose, such as draft pads of designers, invitations to fashion shows, various ornaments, or like the volume of Andersen tales illustrated by Vittorio Accornero, they have a more remote connection to Gucci. The walls of the room is covered with pleated linen, and earlier fashion shows and commercials are projected onto it, resulting in a blurry image and reinforcing the idea of transitory existence.
In summary we can say that the Angelus Novus of Klee and Benjamin needs to jerk her head all too quickly at places, but all in all strong threads keep the nodes of themes together.
The shop of Gucci Garden with its antique furniture and the wall patterns underpins the illusion of a garden and enchantment. The visitors can buy Gucci products available nowhere else, and also antique volumes of poetry and scientific books for sale only here. In the restaurant Bottura has also created a unique menu combining Florentine flavours and cosmopolitan features reflecting the Florentine roots and world-wide success of Gucci. Gucci Garden departs from the traditional concept of a museum. It implements Benjamin’s ideal and surrounds itself with an incorruptible aura. A work of art that one can enter. And if we do decide to enter, we need to become its active participant.
Translated by Péter Papolczy