There’s far more to Pisa than the Leaning Tower, the sweeping curve of the River Arno and Galileo Galilei Airport. The Florentine spent a day exploring all things artistic in Pisa on behalf of Toscana Promozione Turistica, Tuscany’s regional tourism board.
Keith Haring remains a permanent presence in Pisa due to the mural he affixed to the rear wall of the Sant’Antonio Abate church in 1989. Tuttomondo (or All the World) was one of the few outdoor public works created by Haring for permanent display and proved to be one of the last public murals that he produced prior to his death. The idea of creating a mural in Pisa happened by chance when Pisa-born student Piergiorgio Castellani met Haring on the streets of the East Village, Manhattan. Known for being approachable and creating public murals in international locations, the youngster invited the artist to create an impactful work of art in Pisa. Resembling a puzzle, the artwork depicts 30 figures painted in cartoon-like style with themes of peace and harmony. Choosing subtle colours instead of his trademark primary shades, Haring sought inspiration from his surroundings to craft a work in harmony with its social setting.
Right opposite Haring’s masterpiece is a Tuttomondo-inspired tribute by Pupo Bibbito. The Emilian street artist also painted a moose in vicolo Ricciardi that observes passersby along the lungarno. In and around corso Italia, families enjoy tracking down the underwater figures of Blub, while the hearts and balloons of Exit Enter can be spotted in via Pasquale Paoli and Paco designed a naval battle recalling the old maritime republic in via Leonardo da Vinci.
On the façade of the Saint Gobain glass factory, in the Porta a Mare industrial zone, New York artist Andrew Pisacane, aka Gaia, painted a vast mural, Re-Nasci, which depicts the relationship between humans, technology and productivity. The same year, the street artist also created a mural on a pillar in the Pisa shipbuilding area near the airport. The main focus is the protest against Saint Gobain’s arrival in Pisa during a time of dramatic deindustrialization in Italy in the late Seventies and early Eighties and a contrasting reference to Palio di San Ranieri, a traditional regatta held on the River Arno whose origins date to the thirteenth century. The 33-year-old artist recently returned to Pisa’s Manifatture Digitali arts centre during the prolific Internet Festival for a live painting of Cellular Perspectives, a diptych that reflects on the confinements within our cells at home during the pandemic and the roaming freedom that our cellular phones afford us digitally.
Just north, along via Conte Fazio, Cagliari-born street artist Tellas frescoed an entire façade with his River Stories to communicate the importance of the Arno to the development of the city over the centuries. Along the same road, we also find a stunning tribute to Galileo Galilei by Ozmo to emphasize Pisa’s contributions to science and Arno, 30 toniby Alberonero, whose colours reflect the dominant hues of the standards proudly flourished during the Palio di San Ranieri. Ukrainian artist AEC Interesni Kazki painted the striking Knights and Saracens mural tackling the theme of migration in front of the city walls, where the Navicelli canal once flowed, taking inspiration from the history of Pisa and Kinzica de’ Sismondi, who, legend has it, saved the city from the Saracen invasion led by Mujāhid al-ʿĀmirī. (You can also see a statue said to be of Kinzica de’ Sismondi on the facade of the medieval Casa Tizzoni, in via San Martino. It’s actually a fragment of a third century AD Roman sarcophagus.)
Palazzo Blu: a time capsule of art
Pisa’s primary arts and exhibition centre, Palazzo Blu, is named after the striking pastel shade of the thirteenth-century building along the lungarno Gambacorti. Originally called Palazzo Giuli Rosselmini Gualandi, the facade acquired its singular shade in the 1700s at a time when great Italian artists were planning imposing architecture in St. Petersburg and the “colour of air”was added to soften the frontages. Today’s frescoed hue dates to much later when the façade was restored and a fragment of the late 18th-century painting was unearthed. Purchased by the Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa Foundation, the halls have been open to the public since 2008 with masterpieces comprising the permanent collection on the ground floor and on the piano nobile. Visitors marvel at the artworks by Benozzo Gozzoli, Agnolo Gaddi and Artemisia Gentileschi, in addition to a wealth of twentieth-century pieces by Umberto Vittorini, Mino Rosi and Ferruccio Pizzanelli.
The big draw remains the temporary shows with recent exhibitions that have focused on Giorgio de Chirico, Futurism and Surrealism. This month, a major monographic show on Keith Haring will be inaugurated at Palazzo Blu on November 12 (through April 17, 2022) in a tribute to the American artist whose pop art emerged from the New York City graffiti subculture of the 1980s. Visitors can expect to see an overview of Haring’s upbeat work containing social messages from his early years to some final pieces before the artist’s tragic death at just 31 due to AIDS- related complications. Highlights will include complete sets of prices like Apocalypse (1988) and Blueprint Drawings (1990).