Renowned for its priceless Old Master paintings, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has acquired a work by a street artist for the first time in its 440-year history. The London-based street artist known as Endless, whose identity remains a secret, admitted that even he was “surprised” by the historic museum’s decision to accept his graffiti piece.
The Uffizi’s Director, Eike Schmidt, said in a statement “the Medici [the Florentine rulers who built the gallery], who were always at the cutting edge, would be happy to see Endless’ work enter the collection.”
Endless first conceived the idea for his version of ‘Crotch grab’ in 2014 on the walls of London. The mixed-media montage is a comment on advertising and consumer culture, featuring photographs of Gilbert & George. In the centre is Endless himself hidden behind a magazine with an interpretation of the famous 1990s advertising campaign showing Mark Wahlberg in Calvin Klein underwear on the cover. “I don’t think it’s any more scandalous than the nudes that are already in there [The Uffizi],” stated Endless. “He’s got pants on.”
Some critics, however, have expressed more trepidation about the relevance of the work within the Uffizi’s predominantly Renaissance collection. Addressing these concerns about the acquisition, Schmidt said it “references artworks we have in the collection on multiple levels.”
“The crotch grab references the pose of the Venus de’ Medici [sculpture] and Botticelli’s Venus, but transplants it from the female to the male body. We also have several group portraits; the most famous would be Rubens’ Four Philosophers,” explained Schmidt.
Since the turn of the 21st century, street art has exploded into the mainstream with the likes of Banksy also having their work accepted into museums. “It is an honour that my work has been added to the collection of the Uffizi Galleries,” said Endless. “Artists who come from a street art background are rarely recognised by the most prestigious museums.”
Italian museums and galleries began to welcome back the public again in late January 2021, including the Uffizi, after months of closures due to the spread of coronavirus. But for many in the UK the pleasure of viewing artwork inside still seems a long way off, inspiring artists and art lovers to turn to the streets to get their culture fix.
“When everything was shut during the pandemic, more street art appeared illegally and some big murals were planned. People were going on their daily walks and seeing street art even more,” Endless reflected. “The pandemic has shown the strength of artwork in general. People need it.”