Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 750 posts

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Monumental Sculpture meets Monumental Site: Mauro Staccioli and the Baths of Caracalla

Mauro Staccioli's "Portale," 2014.  An opening,
rather than a closing off.  Compare with Staccioli's contribution to the 1978 Biennale, below.
The Baths of Caracalla are always impressive--a Rome-the-First-Time experience, to be sure.  But for the next ten days or so the Baths are a special treat.  Through September 30, this monumental complex is the site an equally monumental set of sculptures by Italian artist Mauro Staccioli.  Titled "Sensibile ambientale" (environmental sensibility), the show is the first retrospective of the work of Staccioli, who died at age 80 on January 1, 2018.

Curated by Alberto Fiz, the exhibition features 26 pieces, some outside, above ground, and some inside, along the underground passages of the Baths.

Tuscan by birth, Staccioli received his arts education at the Art Institute in Volterra, taught in Cagliari (Sardinia) for some years after 1960, before joining the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan in 1968.

Invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 1978, he fashioned the wall that made him famous, even notorious: a 26-foot concrete barrier, provocatively obstructing the view of the Italian pavilion.

Working in a minimalist vein, Staccioli favored basic geometric forms but on a grand scale.  His passion was the relationship of a work of art to its environment.  Writing in Art Forum in 1995, critic Giorgio Verzotti wrote, " In his indoor as well as in his outdoor installations, Mauro Staccioli's sculptures set up a tension between the work itself and the exhibition site."

In selecting the Baths for the retrospective (we assume he was involved in that process before his death), Staccioli took on an unusual challenge.  Although many of his sculptures are huge and inherently imposing--not unlike the iron behemoths of Richard Serra--the Baths are monumental on a scale all their own.

In some cases, then, the "tension" between the work and the site is a tension between monumentalisms--the Baths on the one hand, Staccioli's sculptures on the other.  In some cases, though certainly not all, the Baths swallow, absorb, and minimize Staccioli's work, as in the photo below.

Here, Staccioli's ring sculpture is dominated by the Baths

In others--perhaps especially the interior pieces--the sculptor's creations hold their own, dominate, or (see below) simply enhance the look and feel of the Baths.  Dianne at right.

Although Staccioli did not live to see the exhibition installed, we like to think he would have enjoyed all the complex ways in which his work interacts with one of the most dramatic sites in Rome.

Visitors may (assuming it's still there) also enjoy Michelangelo Pistoletto's nicely lit "The Replenished Apple," which resides in one of the underground chambers.

Pistoletto's "The Replenished Apple"
Staccioli has permanent installations at a dozen or more locations around the world, including the Olympic Park in Seoul, the Parc Tournay-Solvay in Brussels, and Villa Glori in Rome.  Whether permanent or not, a powerful and elegant Staccioli piece fronts the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, on via Belle Arti (below). 

The Staccioli exhibit at the Baths of Carcalla closes September 30, 2018.   Bill
Staccioli's magnificent addition to the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A New Museum of 20th-Century Italian Art - A Construction Mogul Gives Back (a little or a lot?)

A portrait of the Cerasis by Stefano Di Stasio (2016),
against the backdrop of one of the artworks in their
collection, Ballo sul fiume ["Dance along the river"] (1935-36) 
by Giuseppe Capogrossi.
The display of 20th-century Italian art took a giant leap forward this year with the opening of a new private museum in Rome, Palazzo Merulana.

The Palazzo is a refurbished - in essence, reconstructed - 1929 building housing the department of public hygiene. It holds 90 works collected by the construction mogul, Claudio Cerasi and his wife, Elena.

The Department of Hygiene as it looked when it opened in
1929.  You could get vaccinations there.

The Cerasis have performed a trifecta: they saved a worthy building, they opened magnificent artworks to the public, and they breathed life into a somewhat run-down neighborhood.

Whether all that public value is a net public benefit or not, more later.

Giacomo Balla's "Primo Carnero, Campione
del Mondo ("Champion of the World"),
oil on panel with mesh, 1933.

The building and the art work are worth a visit, and--by Rome standards--it's not expensive!  Only Euro 5 for a regular ticket, Euro 4 for concessions (like youth and teachers and you don't have to be an EU citizen to get those concessions) -- another Euro 1 discount through September 30, btw.

The art work is beautifully and creatively displayed.  We're talking De Chirico, Balla, Sironi, Pirandello, Severini, Cambellotti, among the many artists represented. There are a few 21st-century works as well. 

 I'm not sure of the date of this Matteo Pugliese (b. 1969) sculpture (left), which could be 20th or 21st century -  "La Spinta" - "The Push."  It's interestingly located in the outdoor terrace where one can have lunch or coffee - the first floor of the Palazzo, which houses most of the sculptures, is free. 

All Ontani's works are self-
reflective and look like him.

There's also a bust of Dante by Luigi Ontani, about whom we've written.

Arturo Martini's "Victoria on her
Way" (Vittoria in cammino), 1932,
note the fasci.

The building as it looked before the Cerasis
started to reconstruct it (more photos at the
end of this post).
On the fourth floor, which is primarily meeting space, there are photos of the building when it opened, when it fell into ruin, and when it was reconstructed.  All fascinating.  I read that the building was bombed, and that would explain the 1/3 that was missing.  But I also read it was slated for demolition in the 1950s and the demolition was halted - and that is the explanation.  What seems clear is that it was left in a partly demolished state for some 50 years.  So indeed its reclamation is astounding.

Part of the sculpture court and cafe' today.

Same area as photo above left, under construction.

I mentioned above the via Merulana neighborhood has been a little run-down.  It was clearly an upper-class neighborhood when built up in the early 20th century.  It also has some fame, partly as a result of an almost unreadable but significant novel by Carlo Emilio Gadda, "That Awful Mess on Merulana Street."  Palazzo Merulana clearly adds beauty to the street.  The Palazzo also is near Piazza Vittorio, now the locus of many immigrants in Rome (see our review of the documentary by that name), and seen by some as degraded.  Again, Palazzo Merulana's luster helps that area, too.

This is an excellent museum from which to get a perspective on 20th-century Rome - the building, the collection, the neighborhood.  

The question I raised at the top about net value revolves around the issue of a private museum generally. What did the Cerasis get in government support and tax breaks for this project?  Do the artworks remain available to the public even after their deaths? Would the Cerasis have contributed more to the public good by donating their money and their collection to a public museum?  In fact, the Cerasi construction company got the contract to build the national contemporary gallery, MAXXI.  Designed in concrete by Zaha Hadid, that must have been a heckuva contract. I wrote about this issue for theAmerican/inItalia's law column in August; here's the link.
Palazzo Merulana today
Palazzo Merulana is open 2-8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Last entrance 9 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Cafe' open 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Because it's open Mondays and not Tuesdays, this is an option for a Monday when most museums are closed. Website in Italian and EnglishEasily reachable from the Manzoni Metro stop on the A Line.  Also walkable from Piazza Vittorio and the Coliseum and their Metro stops on the A and B lines respectively.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Walk to the Mosque and Villa Ada

Our regular readers will know that we (RST) are walkers.  Just give us a destination (or not) and we're off.  On a weekend in June, while living on via Salaria (in the Salario neighborhood), we struck out for Rome's signature mosque (co-designed by starchitect Paolo Portoghesi), which is tucked into  north Rome between Villa Ada--a huge park--and some sports facilities that line the banks of the Tevere.  Here are some of things we saw on our walk.

At piazza Santiago del Cile, on fashionable viale del Parioli, this very unusual traffic circle.  Unusual because the grass has actually been mowed and the bushes trimmed. That's what you get when you live in Parioli.

We took a bit of a side-trip east, up to Piazza delle Muse.  There's now an attractive bar up there on the bluff above the mosque, with good views.  And we saw this sign, which tells drivers of scooters and motorcycles that they have to walk their machines in this area.

Dropping down to via Ruggero, we hit a T at viale della Moschea ("mosque avenue").  Lanes have been closed because the road has so many potholes it's considered unsafe.

Bill liked this road sign--almost a work of art. Of course, drivers won't see it; it's in the trees.

That's the mosque on our left.  It's #24 on our RST Top 40 list; a fascinating building. When we wrote about it in 2010, it was Europe's largest mosque. It's open to visitors only certain times and days.

The only way to get to Villa Ada from here is this road: overgrown--not made for pedestrians--and a fair amount of traffic.

About a half mile ahead, a path leading into the recreational areas of Villa Ada.

Parts of Villa Ada have paths but are otherwise rather wild.  We like that.

In Villa Ada: graffiti, tree trimmings not removed.

Romans  playing and picnicking in the Villa

Around the lake at the northern end of the park.

Map of the park, now illegible.  I photographed this map because it comes close to what I understand and appreciate as "found art." 

History and archaeology of the park, now illegible.

A warning that the fenced-in area is off limits because of big holes and cave-ins.  At least you can read this.

Nice shaded area

Exercise equipment now unusable; ubiquitous yellow tape.

On our way home:  a small public playground with usable equipment.  But empty--they're all in Villa Ada.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Mikis Mantakas: a Prati Story

In April, we found ourselves for the first time living in the della Vittoria quartiere of the city, with Prati--also more or less unknown to us--only steps to the south.  Neighborhoods have their own stories, and we came across one of Prati's stories on our 2nd day in the city.  We were strolling around Piazza dei Quiriti when we saw this poster, which from its condition had been put up some time ago:

We knew then that Mikis Mantakas was no longer alive.  But who was he?  Two days later, in the same area, we found another poster.

Now we knew that Mantakas was, for some, a martyr ("Europe in the struggle for liberty does not forget its martyrs"), and that he had died on February 28, 1975--a victim, it seemed likely, of the political turmoil and violence known as the "Years of Lead, the "Anni di Piombo."

Here's the rest of the story, or some of it.

Mikis Mantakas was born in Athens, Greece on July 23, 1952.  In the 1970s--probably 1974--he came to Rome to study economics.  An activist and militant in Greece, in December 1974 in Rome he became attached to the Greek contingent of FUAN, the Fronte Universitario d'Azione Nationale ("the university front for national action"), a right-wing group known for militancy.

On February 28, 1975, he was shot twice with a .38 caliber pistol by a leftist extremist (some claimed a communist) in front of the offices of MSI, located at via Ottaviano 4, in Prati.  MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano) was a neo-fascist political party, founded in 1946.

A hostile crowd had gathered around the building, and Mantakas had moved to another side of the building and another exit, this one at Piazza del Risorgimento, 4, close to the walls of the Vatican.  He was shot and killed there by Alvaro Lojacano.  Lojacano was proved to have committed the crime and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.  But before being incarcerated, he fled abroad and never served his sentence.

It's not just a few people who care about Mantakas' death and seek to keep his memory alive.  If one can believe today's right-wing websites, each year on February 28 "nationalists" from many European countries gather in Rome to celebrate Mantakas and affirm their nationalist ideals. They post banners and march west along via Cola di Rienzo to Piazza del Risorgimento, where they rally in front of the site of Mantakas' death, what is now a Foot Locker store.

We're almost never in Rome in February, so we can't confirm that these marches take place every year.  But images on one website make clear that a march did take place in 2015 (the 40th anniversary of Mantakis' death), and that there were dozens, if not hundreds of participants.

"Your memory does not allow surrender." 

And that's the story of Mikis Mantakas, a Greek young man who died in Prati.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Rome's only beer garden: the ex-dogana

In Rome, you're never more than 2 minutes from a cold beer; after all, it's available in any "coffee" bar.  But if you're looking to have your brew in a spot that's more unusual--and maybe stroll through an art exhibit--you can't do better than the ex-dogana (ex-customs house), a sprawling complex of buildings recently converted into an arts and entertainment center.

The ex-dogana is located about 100 yards from Piazza Porta Maggiore, which is more or less at the far end of Stazione Termini (the main train station) and at the confluence of three quartiere: Esquilino, Pigneto, and one of the city's centers of youth nighttime social life, San Lorenzo.  The entrance to the ex-dogana is on viale Scalo San Lorenzo, which runs northwest off Porta Maggiore.  The Scalo is an odd street that can feel threating, because it's busy, noisy, divided by a tram in the middle, and covered and darkened by an elevated highway.  You could be in Brooklyn in 1955.  Anyway, if you exit Porta Maggiore (hopefully without getting run over) and hew to the right (east) side of the Scalo, you can't miss the entrance to the ex-dogana.  Just walk in.

On the left, ahead, is a large parking lot.  On the right, the first thing you'll see is an enclosed courtyard, the site of special events (participatory sports, milling around, music) for which there is
usually a fee.  This area seems to appeal to younger folks.

But if it's beer you want, keep going a few yards, then up a short flight of steps on the right.  You're there!

The beer is all draft, served in plastic cups, a bit pricey (beer is oddly expensive in Rome)--E6 is what we recall.  Hey, you're paying for the space!  There's food, too.  The food stands are made from shipping containers.

You're in Rome's only dedicated beer garden (there are some outdoor spaces attached to pubs). The "garden" was produced at considerable effort, by importing dozens of large potted trees.  It worked, creating any number of inviting spaces to sit and sip.  It's partly covered.  We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, unique for Rome. It's called the "Bosco Urbano" - Urban Forest, and is a project of Rome's La Sapienza University.  It's considered a "temporary" forest - so we're not sure how long it will be up, nor if the beer stations are there all the time. 

That's Dianne, looking contemplative. 

We liked the view too, especially to the north, where the elevated Circonvallazione Tiburtina swoops to ground with post-industrial flair. 

On the other side, a game area: foosball and ping pong.  Not much action at the moment.  The building on the other side of the game area has been the site of large art exhibitions.

At the near end of the platform (where you came in), you'll find a large open space with plants and tables, and the entrance to an interior space that houses a cafeteria, a bookstore, and a small art gallery.

On the day we were there, the gallery was hosting an exhibit by the painter Luca Grimaldi, whose work features consumer objects (such as items on a grocery store self, or racks of magazines).

Congrats, Roma, on this great new space!