Servizio Pubblico at the Uffizi: here's what Antonio Natali would have liked to (but couldn't) say

In this article a reflection on the Uffizi report by Servizio Pubblico, and what Antonio Natali would have liked to say, although he could not.

Although almost two weeks late, I managed to take a look at Andrea Casadio ’s report on the Uffizi that Servizio Pubblico, the La7 program, aired on the evening of May 1. Those who had not yet watched it should know that they can employ the eleven minutes of the report’s running time in some more useful activity.

I wonder if what aired on Servizio Pubblico can be called journalism or, even more so, journalism serving the public. The website of the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, on which theentire service can be viewed, presents it as an “investigation.” The point is that it is an “inquiry” that could also have been done without, because it appears wrong both in manner and content.

In content, because it adds nothing new to what was already known. Which in itself would not be wrong, because of the assumption that repetita iuvant, and one should never tire of making the public perceive what the problems are concerning the most visited museum in Italy. However, the way in which the service was constructed and edited (sudden changes in framing, pressing and dramatizing background music, censored faces, cameras that seem to be hidden) is typical of a certain kind of uncomfortable (or would like to be) investigative journalism, which aims to bring out disturbing aspects of politics, economics, and society often known to few people.

In contrast, the reality presented by the report is one that is far from hidden and known to few. It is common knowledge that, especially on holidays, people queue for hours to enter the Uffizi. It is common knowledge that in certain rooms, especially those containing the most “publicized” masterpieces, if I may say so, crowds sometimes form. For those who frequent the Uffizi not once in a lifetime, but a little more often, it is normal to see a group of fifty cruisers lingering in front of Botticelli’s Venus or Leonardo’s Annunciation. And it is obvious that crowding is a problem and a rather big one at that, but it is a known problem and there is no sense in presenting it as if it were an inconvenient truth. It would make more sense to discuss solutions, rather than problems: so much so that in the continuation of the broadcast there was no further mention of the Uffizi, at least in that sense.

But there is more: momentary inefficiencies are presented as if they were structural problems. This is the example of room temperature: again, those who go to the Uffizi with some frequency know that the air conditioning is always kept under control. Then it is obvious that if a person goes to the Uffizi once in a lifetime and finds that it is hot in a room, that person ends up thinking that it is not a momentary problem, but a structural and permanent deficiency. So we want to hope that Andrea Casadio has visited the Uffizi more often. The funniest part is the part during which the journalist makes an estimate of the people in the halls by pulling random numbers. “There must be a hundred people in this hall,” he says. “The Botticelli hall is packed, there will be three hundred people.” “There are two hundred and fifty people panting.” But shouldn’t journalism be based on accurate data?

Instead, the most obnoxious part is when Casadio interviews Cristina Acidini (superintendent of the Polo Museale Fiorentino) and Antonio Natali (museum director). Ah, by the way: no less obnoxious is the intervention of a man, with a censored face, who states “if the work gets damaged then anyway they restore it and there is always money circulating.” Actually, I didn’t think the purpose of art historians (and museums) was to damage works and then restore them and circulate money. But anyway, let’s gloss over that. The interview with Natali, in particular, was conducted in a way that I think has very little to do with journalism. Casadio waited for Natali on the stairs and began to press him with rhetorical questions, asking him, for example, if he was concerned about the condition of the museum and whether it is true that the president of Civita (i.e., the group that controls Opera Laboratori Fiorentini, a company that in turn manages some of the Florentine Museum Pole’s services such as the ticket office) is Gianni Letta. Would this be journalism? Asking the director of the Uffizi if it is true that Gianni Letta is the president of Civita? Which, moreover, is not true, because Gianni Letta is the president of the Civita Association, but not of the whole group: of course the ties are there, but let them at least be made explicit precisely. Wouldn’t it have been more useful and constructive to ask Antonio Natali if measures have been devised to contain crowding? Or whether projects such as The City of the Uffizi (one of the most interesting cultural projects of recent years) should be expanded with the aim of decentralizing the museum’s holdings? Or perhaps, if you want to be on more practical ground, what is the ideal temperature for storing works and what would be the optimal situation to maintain it? And how does monitoring work? And then, let’s face it: there was no mention at all of the new rooms where, at least we at Windows on Art, we have never encountered any problems related to air conditioning. So why not say in the broadcast that the old halls will also undergo upgrades? And then ask Natali how they will be transformed? But then again, we realize that such questions cannot be asked on the stairs as a person is leaving work: we simply wonder if this is journalism.

This is a real pity, because Servizio Pubblico would have had the opportunity to baste a good broadcast on the problems of cultural heritage, perhaps inviting Natali and Acidini themselves (along with other directors and superintendents, since the episodes did not only talk about the Uffizi) for a serious and intelligent discussion with the aim of discussing solutions. This is the mentality that is missing: the one according to which solutions and not problems should be discussed! Instead, at Servizio Pubblico, they preferred to play the card of “uncomfortable” journalism (on the surface) without, however, delving into the issue: it is not possible to talk about cultural heritage in such a superficial way.

Returning to Antonio Natali, perhaps not all viewers of Servizio Pubblico know that the director of the Uffizi later returned to the topics of the broadcast. However, not in the broadcast itself (as would have been desirable!) but within a program aired on a Florentine radio station(Controradio: here is the full link to the interview). We reproduce an interesting excerpt: “I was trying to explain to him [Andrea Casadio], but often with journalists it is radically and totally useless, that those halls, in a little more than a month and a half or two, will close precisely because there is to be a redoing of the conditioning system. Just as I was trying to explain to him that the air-conditioning system in the Uffizi, right now is in serious trouble because there is the all new part, and the old part: they are trying to make the old part work, which in a little while will be changed with the new equipment, but it doesn’t always work. To this he was radically disinterested because he was bada to say we open for Civita and for others to make money.” Sometimes, you just need to know how to listen. Especially if when one speaks, it is to ask questions of dubious value, which can only be followed by obvious answers.

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