San Gimignano is a small town in Italy, a medieval walled town surrounded by an outer newer town. Like all small towns and medieval villages it is utterly charming and old and cobbly and uphill and so, perfect. It is also not the place you expect to see a Helmut Newton exhibition, but that’s the thing about the unexpected; the law of opposites do attract therefore it fits.
So what are you doing this summer?
For one, you are going to see Helmut Newton in San Gimignano, have two or three or four scoops of the best ice cream, a slice or two of one of the best pizzas out there (votes were held on these claims so I tell you no word of a lie) and be surrounded by the utter charm of a place once called medieval Manhattan because of the towers which at one point was up to seventy. The exhibition is in the museum of contemporary art and depending on your location it is a steep walk up hill and then down. The museum is easy to navigate and the exhibition well shaped out and depending on the time of day, you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
The town was known as little Manhattan because of the presence of towers, prominent families raced to build the tallest towers in competition with other rich families, so more like a dick swing from back in the day. It was an Etruscan village named for a Bishop from Modena San Gimignano who protected the town from the mad Attila the Hun, or so the story goes. Today there are no more than 14 towers, and with a weakened economy from the black plague, the town was defeated by Florence in conflict. Today however, it is a main attraction for day trips and those looking for a break from the mad rush of Florence; being an hours’ journey away makes the commute easier. Do be warned, peak season it is a tourist trap therefore off season is probably best.
So, Newton. For the conservative mind, Newton will appear gauche at times, even to the most liberal he’ll come across as trying too hard to shock but his brilliance is in the way he lit up the silhouette of a woman; light is a feeling, an emotion that often takes centre stage in all his work, both natural and artificial therefore it breeds a sense of sensual, almost reverent feel. I mean, a naked woman is a naked woman, but captured in the best light, shown in the curves and the rounds, the soft against the sharp and it becomes something utterly beguiling. This is where Newton’s work comes to life. His work with light, especially in Black and white photographs is one that amplifies a subject without trying so much. His play with sensualities and eroticism is a signature but perhaps it is his undertone of irony, a mockery of the bourgeois and the thought that in the end life is all film and snap shots of fleeting moments therefore one ought not to take itself so seriously. It is an underlying message.
The exhibition of about 60 images showcases Newton’s different talents from impactful portraits to fashion shoots, and shoots with magazines and one of the most incredible pictures of Claudia Schiffer.
Once back out, take a seat in the main square of the town, enjoy some ice cream and don’t leave without a bottle of the local wine. There you have it, your day done for the day.
The exhibition is open until September 1st 2019 @ the museum of contemporary art San Gimignano