Utopie radicali, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

Fifty years after its inception, Florentine Radical Architecture has attracted an extraordinary flurry of celebratory activity, including at least three large exhibitions:  Super Superstudio (PAC, Milan: Oct 2015 to Jan 2016), Superstudio 50 (MAXXI, Rome: Apr to Oct 2016) and Utopie Radicali (Palazzo Strozzi: Florence, Oct 2017 to Jan 2018). The comprehensive retrospective in Rome, above all, has set new standards by bringing together an unprecedented number of drawings, photomontages and installations associated with Superstudio’s three most influential projects: Monumento Continuo (1969), Istogrammi d’architettura (1969-70) and Le dodici Città Ideali (1971). International interest is also on the rise: Savage Architecture, a collaboration between Superstudio’s Gian Piero Frassinelli and the Roman architectural practice 2A+P/A, was shown at the London Architectural Association in spring 2016, when Frassinelli also joined Interdisciplinary Italy for the workshop conference Making Places. More recently, Superstudio 50 has opened in Shanghai, where it may be seen until January 2018.

Utopie Radicali at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, stands out because of its attention to less widely known collectives such as UFO, 9999 and Zziggurat, and to creative artists like Remo Buti and Gianni Pettena, whose works are presented alongside Superstudio and Archizoom as vital expressions of the creative turmoil of the Long Sixties. Connoisseurs of Radical Architecture will relish the diversity of exhibits, which include Lapo Binazzi’s iconic dollar-sign table lamp (1969), Archizoom’s delightfully kitschy Dream Beds (1967) and Zziggurat’s enigmatically post-apocalyptic Archeologia del futuro (1978), among others. Neophytes in search of more general information, by contrast, are likely to be baffled by the sophisticated thematic display, which samples and combines works of different periods, but reveals little about their original context or the artists’ intentions and beliefs.

Compared to its Roman precursor, the Florentine retrospective has an intimate, almost nostalgic atmosphere. Florence, as Archizoom’s Andrea Branzi has remarked, is a provincial city defined by its glorious past, where even the most playful and mischievous of young radicals stands in awe of her illustrious ancestors. It is not surprising, then, that Utopie Radicali appeals to the complicity of like-minded audiences, and depicts Radical Architecture as a quintessentially Florentine achievement, inseparable from the city itself, just like the masterpieces by Jacopo da Pontormo, Agnolo Bronzino and Alessandro Allori also currently on show at Plazzo Strozzi. For the curators of Utopie Radicali, Florentine counterculture is intimately situated and converses with tradition, similarly to the Urboeffimeri on display in the museum’s Sixteenth Century courtyard: huge inflatable bags, that were glamorously paraded around Florence in 1968 by the members of the anarchist collective UFO, and that continue to speak subtly – but only to those in the know –  of an exciting and perhaps better past.

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