An antique building on the corner between piazza San Felice and piazza Pitti in Florence: on the top floor lives Giovanni Poggi, historic superintendent of the city, and from that apartment you can access the Vasarian Corridor, which leads up to the Uffizi, on the opposite shore of the Arno. Susanna Orlando was born in that home, in that building, during the winter of 1959. It is safe to say that she has been exposed to art and beauty ever since.
Susanna followed in her father’s footsteps. Truth be told, in 1959, Angelo Orlando (of Sicilian origins, from Casteltermini in the Province of Agrigento) was working as a shoemaker. According to the family legend: one day, a client that was short of cash paid him with a lithograph. Angelo Orlando set it in his store window, amongst the shoelaces and polishes. It was a Fattori, and Angelo Orlando sold it for a full 5,000 Lire. In that moment, he decided what his new profession was going to be.
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From Forte to Pietrasanta
In 1961 the Orlando Gallery was founded in via del Giglio, nearby the Medici Chapels. Ten years later, the Orlando Gallery Cavour was opened in Forte dei Marmi, located in the main square where ponies ran around pulling carriages carrying young children. The gallery soon became famous for its summer-evening auctions, during which tourists would “compete” for artworks by the great masters of the Italian ‘900s.
Susanna, a child at the time, would often visit the artists’ studios with her father. She says that her first close encounter with an artwork was a very “material” one. She was not yet eight years old when her father took her with him to the studio of a famous Florentine painter, Guido Borgianni. On the easel stood a portrait of a beautiful woman. She wore a pearl necklace, made with large drops of white paint. Just as she would have done with whipped cream on top of a cake, Susanna pinched those drops together and turned them into a nice solid white line. It was the first painting that, unintentionally, she helped pass from hand to hand.
Susanna started to help out at the gallery in Forte dei Marmi during the high season.
In via Carducci, beyond the square, there was a small premise that hosted the gallery’s storage. However, that corner of Forte – hitherto almost peripheral – was becoming always more lively, with new shops and restaurants constantly opening. Angelo Orlando decided that the storage – that measured just 14 square meters – would be repurposed and would become a new gallery, which young Susanna would then take care of. It is now April 14th of 1976.
Away goes the shelving that was inside the storage, and the space is then reorganized in order to exhibit paintings. SUSANNA ORLANDO GALLERY, reads the sign outside, which will then become one of the first and – for almost 40 years – one of the most active reference points for art in Forte. The inauguration is dedicated to Antonio Ligabue, followed by some of the most established artists of the Italian ‘900s, such as Pietro Annigoni, Aligi Sassu, Ottone Rosai, Mario Sironi, Lorenzo Viani, Marino Marini, and many others.
In the meantime, Susanna finished her high school and enrolled at the University (she signed up for law school). However, more importantly, she travelled and accumulates experience in some of the world’s greatest galleries, from New York to Milan: she observes and learns, and then she applies what she has learnt at her own gallery.
Since the mid ‘80s, the Gallery becomes independent from the “parent company” and forms its own independent identity, orienting itself in a decisive and definite way towards contemporary art. Personal site-specific exhibits are carried out one after another, portraying artists such as Raffaele Bueno, Bruno Ceccobelli, Giuseppe Chiari, Jessica Carroll,Lorenzo Lazzeri, Aldo Mondino, Piero Pizzi Cannella, which are just some of the artists that have been given a chance to organize solo exhibits at the Susanna Orlando Gallery.
Susanna invites artists to craft small-format artworks purposely for her gallery. And they respond with great availability, moved by Susanna’s contagious passion and enthusiasm whilst inventing and creating her activities. One of the artists fondest of Susanna is Aldo Mondino. It was he who had the idea to divide the 14-square-meter space in three different rooms: the “red”, the “green” and the “blue” room. He was content by just personally being able to paint the walls that would have welcomed his “Daneses des jarres”.
One specific event represents a turning point: Pino Deodato’s solo exhibit, in 1996, which sealed the final separation from the tradition of her father, Angelo. At the same time, the exhibit also marked the beginning of the precious collection of catalogues, which have since then supplemented all of the gallery’s exhibits and events.
Meanwhile, in 1990, Susanna bought a house in Pietrasanta, a town just a few kilometers away from Forte, but being there felt is as you were transported to a different world. At the bar, in the main square, or in the (few) restaurants and taverns, the artists, mostly sculptors, attracted by this location because of its globally unique concentration of foundries and marble laboratories, would sit down to drink a “bersagliere” or get a bite to eat, still wearing their work clothes, covered in marble dust, the youngsters alongside the masters, in a mixture of languages, styles and personalities.
Today that Pietrasanta is almost inexistent. In its place there is a city that is livelier, crowded during every season, full of bars, restaurants and art galleries.
And it is here that, since July 6th of 2013, Susanna carries out her profession. Her studio in via Stagi is an ample space, where even artworks of great dimensions can find a place, and where it is easier to experiment new paths. And, more importantly, where, in 2016, we celebrate the first 40 years of activity of the Susanna Orlando Gallery.