Museums are a dime a dozen in Florence, which has been hailed Italy’s cultural capital thanks to its incredible selection of art from Michaelangelo’s David to the grand frescos that grace the walls of the Uffizi. However my most memorable museum experience was at the Ferragamo Museum which I visited for the first time last month.
The Ferragamo Museum isn’t exactly new – it opened in 1995 and is well known among fashionistas thanks to its prime location in the middle of the luxe Via Tournabuoni shopping street. Located in the basement of the stunning Palazzo Spini Feroni, the building itself is a historical monument and was built in 1289. In addition to the museum, it also houses the brand’s workshop and headquarters.
My biggest misconception about the museum was the fact that it is solely dedicated to fashion. While it is home to a collection of 10,000 archival models designed by Salvatore Ferragamo himself between the 1920s and 1960s, the space is more than just a tribute to his work. Each year a team of curators piece together an exhibition that connects his life work with that of other leading artists, offering visitors a glimpse not only into his artform but the art and artists that inspired him.
Currently on show at the museum is Equilibrium, which pays homage to one of Ferragamo’s obsessions: The Anatomy of the foot and achieving the perfect balance. The theme is brought to life by a series of accompanying artworks on loan from prestigious museums such as the Hermitage in Russia, and Musee Rodin and Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
The exhibition, which covers the entire museum, is divided into several parts beginning with a selection of Ferragamo’s research including lasts, drawings and patents. The exhibition really unfolds in the next few rooms which trace our first ever footsteps taken by ancestors as far back as 3.6 million years ago in Africa. There are countless of artworks ranging from books and sculptures to paintings, each one inspired by walking and movement. Many iconic pieces include Rodin’s Edute pur le Saint Jean-Baptiste and Matisse’s Etude de pied. Other pieces by Degas and Picasso celebrate circus performers, acrobats and dancers, all experts of equilibrium.
There is also a multi-sensory element to the exhibition which includes a cool video installation featuring famous figures walking including Mao Tse Tung, JFK, Gandhi and Adolf Hitler. Another screen plays the iconic walk taken by performance artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay on the Great Wall of China. There are also video interviews with well known figures such as mountaineer Reinhold Messner and dancer Eleonora Abbagnato who speak about balance.
One of the most memorable pieces is a specially commissioned video installation by contemporary artist Bill Viola which shows a young man walking in a straight line from a distant point on the horizon. He eventually comes face to face with the viewer, before we witness memories collected from his walk and life.
The exhibition in general is compelling not just from a fashion history perspective but for those who want to learn more about the culture, science and art that inspires it.
Unfortunately, not all of us can jump onto a plane and see the exhibition in person, but you can buy the exhibition catalogue at selected Ferragamo boutiques worldwide. The brand also released a small capsule collection inspired by dancers including pumps, a T-shirt, shopping bag, beauty case, key ring, and charms.
Equilibrium is on until April 2015 at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum
Piazza Santa Trinita 5, Florence, Italy. www.museoferragamo.com