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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Small Gallery Openings--a Rome Pleasure

If you're looking for something to do in Rome in the early evening--before 8, when the stores close and the restaurants open--you should consider attending an opening at one of the city's numerous small art galleries.  Notices of openings can be found in Trova Roma, an entertainment insert that comes with the Thursday edition of the newspaper La Repubblica, or in a free art publication (Art Forum) that's available in most galleries and is also online.

Some small gallery experiences are mostly interior affairs, with little "street exposure."  The gallery below, AlbumArte,  just off via Flaminia, has a small porch in the rear that was popular with visitors.



The art at these events varies from excellent to adequate to (infrequently) downright bad, as in "I could do that," or "Oh my God he wants $2000 for that!"

Outside Galleria Varsi, near Campo de' Fiori, soft focus
But unless you're a collector or a genuine connoisseur, you'll have a good time anyway, and, if you don't like the art, any pain you experience in browsing the works on display will last only a few minutes.  Whatever the quality, we recommend playing the "best of show" game (self-explanatory) and the "if you were to hang any of the works in this room in your living room, which would it be?" game.  We enjoyed the fabric collage art in this show (photo below) at Galleria Varsi by Sardinian artist, Tellas.


In addition to the art on the gallery walls, openings have three pleasures.  The first (to be accessed first thing, so you can sip as you meander), is free wine or, much less frequently, beer.  If you're really lucky, there will be some small-bite food, which the Italians will consume as if they'd spent the last year in a survivalist challenge.

Nice - from Tellas's "Fabric Series 4"
The second is people watching, a menage that includes the "identify the artist" game--not all that easy, by the way--observing the girl with the (name your color) hair, and (below) photographing people photographing people photographing art.


The third, related to the second but different, is hanging out outside, drink in hand, with the Romans.  Some of them, of course, are smokers, but they are primarily experts at the game of twilight relaxation, skilled at finding a clean hood to sit on, at dodging automobiles and scooters, and talking.  Learning these skills with a drink in your hand is the primary reason for attending an art opening in Rome.



The photos are of a late-April opening at Galleria Varsi, in via Grotta Pinta.  It was a beer night.  Brett "I like beer" Kavanaugh did not show.  There is no dress code for these affairs.  Dogs were welcome--at least at the Flaminio venue.



Bill


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Palazzo Barberini Opens Up with Show Juxtaposing Renaissance and Contemporary Art

Giulio Paolini's contemporary "Eco nel vuoto" (Echo in the void)
 in the same room as Caravaggio's "Narciso" (Narcissus) (1597-99) (also below right).
Palazzo Barberini - that staid old lady in the Centro housing major Renaissance paintings and sculpture - has something new to offer. Following an accord between the Ministers of Cultural Heritage and Defense, the entire South wing of the building, comprising 10 rooms and a small chapel, has been turned over to public use.

From 1934 until this agreement in 2015, the "circolo" - or social center - for the Armed Forces occupied these rooms, perhaps not their highest and best use. We saw some of these odd uses when we highlighted the grounds of the Barberini in a 2014 post. Pursuant to this unusual agreement, the Defense Ministry contributed almost €2 million (about $2.3 million). And they get to use the rooms for 40 days/year - for "reasons of high representation."

That curious story aside, the rooms are magnificent and the opening show - which closes at the end of this month (Oct. 28), is a great one with which to open the South wing. Titled Eco e Narciso ("Echo and Narcissus"), it's a creatively curated matching of Barberini Renaissance works and contemporary pieces. I admit, I'm a sucker for that type of juxtaposition dating from when I saw a show entitled "Antiques in the Modern Home" - or something like that - in the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence in the 1960s.
Bernini's sculpture of Pope Urban VIII flanked by Yan Pei-Ming's
paintings of Pope John Paul II (2005) and Mao (1999?)


Paired for example are Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture of.Pope Urban VIII (Cardinal.Francesco Barberini) with paintings of Pope John Paul II and Mao by Yan Pei-Ming; Renaissance paintings of women with Kiki Smith's sculptures; a room richly frescoed by Pietro da Cortona with Luigi Ontani's "Le Ore" ("The Hours").
Ontani's "Le Ore" (1975) in the large salon with
 da Cortona's ceiling fresco, "Allegory of Divine
 Providence"  (and Barberini Power), 1633-36.


The theme is portraiture and self-portraiture, and certainly Ontani about whom we've written before, fits the "Narcissus" theme.

Signature works by Caravaggio and Raphael are also prominent in this show, which features 19 more masterpieces from the collection of the Gallerie Nazionali, in dialogue with 17 contemporary works from MAXXI or loans, with three works realised for the occasion (including 2 for which there are photos here - by Giulio Paolini (top photo) and Yinka Shonibare (last photo).
Ontani again.

The juxtaposition of works was created by a Renaissance art curator and a contemporary art one: Flaminia Gennari Santori, of the Barberini/Corsini galleries, and Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, director of the 21st- century MaXXI Arte.  There's another piece to the show at MAXXI, featuring one Renaissance and one contemporary work.
Kiki Smith's "Large Dessert" (2004-05) against the backdrop of female portraits
by Rosalba Carriera and Benedetto Luti (both late 17th to early 18th centuries).

After the current show closes, the entire collection will be re-arranged. For those familiar with the Barberini, this likely is welcome news.  For those of us who visit intermittently, we probably won't notice the difference, except for one change - visitors now will enter on the Bernini stairs and descend on the magnificent Borromini stairs (left), until now closed to the public.  

More pictures of the show below. 

Dianne 
Pierre Subleyras, "Nude from behind," 18th century, paired with
Stefano Arienti's piece below.

Arienti's "SBQR, netnude, gayscape,
orsiitaliani..." 2000.




Yinka Shonibare's "The Invisible Man" (2018) with Marco Benefial's "Portrait of the Quarantotti Family (The missionary's family)" 1735.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Late Night Rome:: Il Lemoncocco di Roma


Lemoncocco.  It's a non-alcoholic drink, made up of (not surprisingly) lemon juice and coconut juice.  It's tangy and delicious--and, quoting Jack Kerouac's description of his apple-pie diet while On the Road-- "nutritious of course."

There's more to Lemoncocco's attraction than the taste.  The concoction comes with a certain mystique.  To our knowledge, it's available in only one place in Rome, a kiosk on the northeast corner of Piazza Quadrata (square piazza, formally Piazza Buenos Aires) in the Salario quarter.  Known as Il Lemoncocco di Roma (the business dating to 1946), the kiosk shimmers with mystery late at night, when it's usually the only business open on the piazza.


Below, that's Dianne at the counter, enjoying her Lemoncocco while chatting up the only employee.  A plate of coconut pieces sits atop the lemons.


At that hour, and on the morning break, some of its customers are city workers, clad in orange uniforms.  Others are couples, sharing the late-night romance of the place.


And Il Lemoncocco not only appears inviting looking in, but it has a commanding view of the piazza and of the trams that run on viale Liegi.  The car at right is on via Po.


The recipe for Lemoncocco would seem simple, but it may not be.  A newspaper article posted at Il Lemoncocco notes that an American company had taken the "recipe" and put out its own
Lemoncocco, in a can!  Il Lemoncocco di Roma responded by saying the recipe was a secret, not to be divulged; the recipe's contents had been registered with the authorities, and the drink would be defended.

So maybe there's more to the drink than lemon and coconut. 

Bill

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.

Dianne