Eike Schmidt (Fribourg, 1968) is a man with brilliant impulses for the pedagogy of public art. An extraordinary museum director who brought the Uffizi Gallery in Florence into the 21st century by applying new museum management techniques. Schmidt is an erudite, conversational and open man. A man declared “anti-fascist”. And what’s more, he’s German. The theory says that all these elements would make him a stereotype that is not typical of the candidate profile that the Brothers of Italy, the party of Giorgia Meloni, usually presents for mayors in Italy. But it is precisely for this reason, for his ability to fish in other fishing areas, that the Prime Minister now wants him as a candidate for mayor of Florence. And he is thinking about it, but it seems to be one of the few possible ways to wrest from the left a stronghold that has been unassailable for almost five decades in the elections that will probably take place in early June.
Schmidt has been director of the Uffizi for nine years (since 2015), a position he left this Monday to direct the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. And during this period, after exhaustive and highly publicized work – by himself and by the communications agency that carried out this work – he became a leading public figure in Florence and Italy. The size and influence of the Renaissance gallery, which in the Medici era was a bit like the west wing of the Palazzo Vecchio – the current seat of the town hall – has become an institution from which it is also possible to carry out political activities and engage in public debates. which affect all citizens.
Recently appointed director of the Uffizi Gallery, Eike Schmidt, the first foreigner to govern one of Italy’s greatest cultural exponents, grabbed a microphone and launched a message through outdoor loudspeakers against pickpockets and petty crooks. Someone expressed concern for the first time – and with a German accent, by the way – about the chaos reigning at the museum gates. But three days later, the Florence police came to his office and fined him around 300 euros for advertising on public roads without the corresponding authorization. The next morning, Schmidt went to City Hall, reached deep into his pocket, and paid the debt. One more example of his interventionist, and somewhat populist and popular, conception of the management of the museum, which receives nearly four million visitors per year.
The German director, recently naturalized Italian, has not yet decided whether he should take the plunge. “Look, I haven’t got any news. This is something I have yet to finish meditating on. “Everything is open and I don’t have a deadline to decide,” he said in a telephone interview with this newspaper. At the party they confirm that the game is open and that the fact that he has just accepted a new mission as museum director in Naples will not influence the decision. “They are separate things. They have nothing to do with it,” they emphasize.
The process of seducing Schmidt, who maintains good relations with the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, is also part of the radical right’s strategy of giving a central role to culture in its political program. An idea which is linked to the old postulates of the philosopher Antonio Gramsci on cultural hegemony, traditionally attributed to the left and which Meloni’s party now wants to overthrow.
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Schmidt, who describes himself as a centrist, believes that Florence must tackle two fundamental issues: security and infrastructure. But the city’s big problem, mass tourism and the gradual desertification of the center in favor of apartments and tourist hotels, is not a priority. “I would not limit visits to the city. But you can work on the idea of programming them,” he said a few days ago in an interview, recalling that this formula was also used at the Uffizi using an algorithm to decongest the museum.
The left has already started its campaign against Schmidt. The current mayor, Dario Nardella, accused him of not having respected the deadlines in which he planned to apply the reforms to the Offices. Other voices claim that the current director of Capodeimonte obtained a place at the Neapolitan Museum in exchange for an appearance in Florence, so that if he lost the electoral race he would have a place to continue working. Schmidt obviously denies this, although it would be strange if he returned to Florence a few days after landing in the Parthenopean city.
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