Matteo Renzi wins, culture loses

Our analysis of what may become of culture after Matteo Renzi's victory in the PD primaries.

Of the ideas that Matteo Renzi, fresh winner of the PD primaries, has about culture, we spoke this summer, in an article that moreover we are circulating in these hours on social networks, and which is achieving great success (today we marked the historical record of accesses to the site). It was an ironic article, which, however, concluded with a bitter reflection and a question: namely, given that Matteo Renzi might become Prime Minister in the future, should we start worrying about the fate of our culture.

A first confirmation came last night with, precisely, Matteo Renzi’s landslide victory in the primaries, a victory that opens up many issues for discussion: the fact that there is no longer a left in Italy by now; the fact that Renzi’s youthful rhetoric makes no sense if it is not supported by solid ideas (and not by consensus based on the ability to “sell oneself” at the media level, a factor that more than any other, indeed perhaps uniquely, contributed to Renzi’s victory); the fact that for the umpteenth time in Italy we have to witness the rise of a politician-imbonitore rather than a politician who is educated and says sensible things. But Windows on Art is a site that talks about art, and we are often reproached on social media for our tendency to digress into petty politics, reasoning that in this article we will only talk about what may happen to art with Renzi becoming secretary of the PD, and thus, in all likelihood, prime ministerial candidate in the next general election.

The second confirmation to the question we asked comes from the press conference Renzi held at the Rome headquarters of the Democratic Party. Renzi presented his team for the secretariat: a journalist, noting that Renzi had not proposed any names for culture, immediately asked who the person in charge of culture was. Renzi’s response, “I always give the example of Florence. Culture is an issue that keeps, as we did in my city, for the first period the secretary as his own personal proxy, to give a signal of special attention as those who followed the election campaign know.” We do not expect anything good. In the last few hours, on our Facebook page, we have joked about the new role that will be held by Renzi, and someone promptly wrote to us saying that before judging we need to try.

Honestly, we do not need to try Renzi: we have already had the opportunity to test his idea of culture in Florence, one of the richest cities of art in the whole world. There are two lines that Renzi has held for culture in his five years as mayor of Florence. The first: culture as a media sounding board. We had several examples, and we mentioned them in our article mentioned in the opening (“Art according to Matteo Renzi: the seven ”best" renzian gimmicks in five years in office"). Unrealizable projects (faade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo), mistreatment of works of art for media purposes ( Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes in the Salone dei Cinquecento), choosing to focus only on the big names in art history while disregarding everything else (because, of course, it is the big name, such as Leonardo’s or Michelangelo’s, that attracts consensus: you try to draw attention to your city by talking about Giorgio Vasari, whom most will remember for his ubiquitous rambling in art history books up to Mannerism, so even if we puncture a couple of frescoes on him, the important thing is that Leonardo is underneath).

And the disregard for minor artists (and museums) is tangible if we think of all those facts that, not having media appeal, go more unnoticed: think of the financial collapse of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, think of the abandonment of the historic Gambrinus cinema later converted, with the mayor’s applause, into a Hard Rock Caf (a move that constituted one of the main steps toward the transformation of Florence’s historic center into a sort of Disneyland for foreign tourists: Try to go on a spring weekend to the historic center of Florence and count the number of Florentines you find there), we think about the fact that Renzi has not yet said a word about the sad fate that the Vasari Corridor is heading for, i.e., for the not-yet-informed, a de facto privatization that will lead not only to entrusting the guided tours of a public gallery to a private company (when in the public we already have very good and trained guides), but will lead to exorbitantly high tour prices (34 the full price, 25 the reduced and 16 the free: So much for culture for all, but also good logical sense given the “cost” of a “free” ticket).

Here someone may object by saying that the Vasari Corridor is a museum that depends directly on the Ministry, and not on the City of Florence. True: but for one thing it is still located in the city of which Matteo Renzi is mayor, and for two, Matteo Renzi has also often spoken about museums dependent on the ministry during his tenure. We especially remember him for the celebrated phrase, “the Uffizi is a money machine.” And here we are connected to Renzi’s second idea of culture, namely that of culture in the service of money and marketing, an idea that is in any case an emanation of the first. The whole thing can be summed up with a beautiful cartoon by Staino published in July in l’Unit, featuring Bobo, the bearded and pudgy character in Staino’s strips, and his daughter Ilaria. The latter asked her dad, “Babbo, what is a boor?” and Bobo replied, “I’ll give you two examples: Montezemolo who wants the Ponte Vecchio in Florence for a private party, and Renzi who gives it to him.”

The barbaric and old-fashioned idea (despite Renzi’s age) that culture is for making money, and that in the face of this principle it is also possible to sacrifice the public enjoyment of art for the benefit of the wealthy few, has been honored more than ever during Renzi’s years in office. Ponte Vecchio closed for hours to passage, because a party reserved for a few dozen Ferraristi was to be celebrated there (and even on the economic return of the event there are strong doubts). The Palazzo Vecchio museum closed to the public for an entire day, because an Ermanno Scervino fashion-show was scheduled for the evening. Piazza Ognissanti taken away from the city to turn it into the dining room of an Indian tycoon who chose Florence for his own Bollywood-style wedding. These are some examples of Renzi’s interest in culture during his years in office.

It is worth remembering that culture is not a whore willing to give herself to the highest bidder. And that is why the answer to the question with which this article opened can only be affirmative: yes, we are strongly concerned. Because Matteo Renzi has never given the impression that he really wants to render his services to culture. Mind you, we are talking about real culture: for culture in the service of marketing, Renzi has done his best on more than one occasion. We are talking about the culture that produces not money and not marketing but awareness, ideas, the ability to think for oneself. Perhaps Renzi believes that these last three exercises are counterproductive to his consensus?