Finding emptiness

Nothing fascinates me.

That is to say, I'm fascinated by many things, one of which is nothing. I find the lack of something to be as interesting as its presence. There's a poetic simplicity in non-existence. And so today, when we found ourselves at another near-empty museum, I was pleased.

For one, it meant we wouldn't have to wade through the crowds of Americans, as I bemoaned yesterday. For two, the lack of people meant the space was cool, which, given the high temperatures and sweaty humidity we've been enduring, was an instant relief. And three, it presented the opportunity to contemplate artistic aspiration. For me, the pinnacle of creative achievement, the eternal aim, is depth without complexity. Something in nothing, or as close to nothing as you can get.

But let me cover some earlier ground. We were entering the final day of our Firenze Card's validity and hence continued our mad spree which today seemed to become a palace tour. I think we'll have hit twelve to fifteen museums in three days, a feat that sounds harder than it was given their close proximity and varying size. With the free public transport the card has paid for itself twice over. And thus we had arrived at the Palazzo Strozzi, which had just one exhibition open on Mondays (and many other places were shut completely).

Perhaps the best presented of any of the galleries we had visited, the Americans in Florence collection was elegantly constructed and featured English explanations beneath each painting, notepads and pencils to encourage attempts at imitating their techniques (something the Americans themselves had done), and attendants hovering to answer your questions. Very family friendly with activity suitcases, too - this was post-modern, inclusionary art appreciation and the experience was all the better for it. Just a shame the other half of the museum wasn't open.

Later, we entered the Palazzo Vecchio and climbed the tall tower to survey the view of Florence. We have definitely covered a significant portion of this city - from each of its four walls we recognised places we've trod to previously. By my estimation we must be nearing 50km now, though Sam may have hit his limit today as we've been out for about nine hours total each day. That meant that the 230-odd steps to its top were gruelling, but the reward - a breezy view, completely ours save for a mindful attendant - was worth it. The rest of the palace had its moments, but the Christian adornment all blurs together after a few rooms. On our way home we dropped into the Palazzo Medici Ricardi, which was a bit bland except for some bright fairy light versions of popular art, like the Mona Lisa.

But back to the empty museum. We stumbled out of the Strozzi in search of the Museo Marino Marini and found it tucked behind some temporary fencing. (Due to the small doorways, all building work on higher stories o an apartment building sees the scaffolding constructed over the road like an F1 race's pedestrian walkway.) Once a church, it was taken over by Marini just before his death in the 1970s to display his artwork. But this renovation accentuated his almost cubist aesthetic, lacking the fussy detailing in favour of strong wooden railing and large open spaces. Maximum impact from minimum complexity.

It was full of sculptures from a man whose eccentric taste included a fascination with knights. From the pained collapse of a wounded steed, to the triumphant stance of a mounted rider, he rendered his interest in triangular forms through both metal sculptures and dark paintings. Strolling through the airy, empty three levels of the church, you couldn't help but admire his dedication and narrow focus.

And then, in the basement, there was something completely different. Upon entry to the church, there had been a vaguely musical but ominous rumbling that echoed sporadically through the halls. I'd almost overlooked the stairs into the crypt, but made my way down just before leaving. In the near pitch black of the tombs shone two lights. The first highlighted a cube on the floor about half a metre in each dimension. The second was set further back in the nothingness and lit some vague metal forms. And with each step closer the beat of the music grew louder.

As you pace towards it, pulse quickening, all you can do is stare at the reference point in the distance. You reach the cube, but there is no answer, no explanation. You press on, up a slow rise, eyes adjusting, and notice against the light the silhouette of a wire fence. One panel has been cut vertically, so you slip through its open wings and towards the music. The metal forms coalesce; it's three cylinders of barbed wire, two metres tall and two metres thick, standing vertically. From inside the impenetrable, sharp edges emanates the coolly melodic bass tones and the overlaid chatter of two voices talking over each other.

Such elegant simplicity; such economy of expression. In the crypt of a dusty and overlooked church, one piece of work elicited a more visceral and emotive reaction than just about any of the other thousand pieces I saw in the day's wandering. It proved, again, that the beauty of absence is its accentuation of that which remains.