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The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is one of Italy’s best-known tourist attractions. Certainly, in a city that is packed with museums and art galleries of international renown, the Uffizi already stands clear from the throng, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. That said, the innovative management at the gallery has recently sought to try and improve on its reputation among younger people that it is merely a repository of old-fashioned artworks.
Like many galleries in the museum sector, it has attempted to harness the power of social media to grab the attention of a younger audience. The difference? The Uffizi has turned to TikTok, the social media and video sharing service, usually better known for its lip-syncing, dancing and comedy snippets. What has the marketing team at the Uffizi Gallery been up to and why are their activities creating such a stir among other institutions in the sector?
In the summer, the Uffizi posted a video on its TikTok account that was specifically designed to shake off some of its image as a traditional gallery space. The video in question featured a Renaissance masterpiece, Botticelli’s Spring. The work of art has been studied for centuries by art historians. It is comprised of depictions various mythological figures, including the Roman goddess Venus.
When TikTok subscribers viewed the video, they did not simply see the whole painting on their device’s screen but were offered an entirely novel perspective on the artwork. Firstly, the whole video was accompanied by a song recorded by Todrick Hall called Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels. The track is full of expletives and suggestive comments. As the lyrics are heard during the video, the painting is brought to life. In fact, each time a body part is mentioned in the song, the video’s makers decided to zoom in on something relevant in the image. Given that the song is full of such references, it is hardly surprising that the video becomes seemingly ever more focussed on both body parts and body image.
As the video progresses, so animation comes into play. Although the figures in the work of art might date back to the 15th century, they are made to dance along to the music in time. This is very much a 21st-century piece of image-making, after all. Overall, the concept was one that was designed to operate in the here and now despite using the work of an old master to make its point.
Some may see the clip as being irreverent and that the gallery’s TikTok account has been commandeered to do nothing more constructive than to poke fun at one of the most famous images in its collection. However, the idea behind the video was to be more playful than impertinent. After all, anyone who is likely to have been put off the Uffizi by viewing the video is probably not a big fan of TikTok anyway. The strategy’s aim was to try and transform the gallery’s public image from a place that is full of difficult-to-understand Renaissance art into a place where the fast-moving TikTok generation will want to explore in greater depth.
Ilde Forgione, the member of the gallery’s who runs the social media account on the Uffizi’s behalf, conceded that the video might look a little stupid to some people. “Nevertheless, from time to time you have to offer a fresh perspective,” she said. Forgione went on to add that her brief was to come up with something that spoke to younger people, ideally communicating that art need not be boring and not for them. She wanted to make art seem as though it was something other than the sort of thing you would just learn about in an academic way. “Art is something you can discover for yourself,” she said, claiming that the video, in its own way, conveyed this.
Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi’s director, said that he thought the public image of the gallery came across as though it had become trapped in a prehistoric age with very little to offer the younger generation. It was Schmidt who took the decision to try and build a global audience for the gallery using social media and he who set upon TikTok as the best platform to achieve this with a younger viewership. Schmidt claimed that it was this decision – rather than opting for Twitter, Facebook or even Instagram campaigns – that accounted for the success of the tactic.
Certainly, the powers that be at the Uffizi now seem themselves in the avant-garde of the museum sector’s social media strategists at the moment. This, Schmidt went on to say, was achieved in a matter only a few months from a starting position that was significantly behind many of the other major institutions in Italy and, indeed, Europe.
TikTok users may be famously young but they are notorious for their attention being only given to the most entertaining of content. According to Schmidt, that is why he wanted Forgione to set up a team that could put together videos that were quirky and, occasionally, surreal. This is certainly the case among the other videos that have since been posted by the gallery.
A good case in point is one that features an animated viral infection which is seen dancing through the gallery. Its gaze falls upon Caravaggio’s depiction of the mythical Gorgon, Medusa. Given that the Gorgons were supposedly able to turn anything that looked at them to stone, it may come as no surprise that the video then shows virus turning into a rock and being smashed in two. In a light-hearted touch, the figure in the painting is shown wearing a face mask. Again, popular music is used to accompany the action, this time with Cardi B, the American rapper, providing the soundtrack.
The approach taken by the Florentine gallery appears to be working, too. Thus far, well over 150,000 followers have been added to the museum’s TikTok account ready to view any fresh content that might be added. However, given that the gallery only reopened in June, it is too early to say whether that figure will translate into visitor numbers. Forgione is optimistic that it will, certainly among younger visitors. “It would be great if our followers shot their own TikTok videos here and tagged us in them,” she said.
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.
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