Roma 10 | Art

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012
A sketch of Doris Salcedo's Plegaria Muda on exhibition at MAXXI. One of the most interesting installations I have ever seen: Table upon table with dirt sandwiched inbetween. Real grass growing through the tabletops. In response to death in the artist's hometown in Colombia.

A sketch of Doris Salcedo’s Plegaria Muda on exhibition at MAXXI. One of the most interesting installations I have ever seen: Table upon table with dirt sandwiched inbetween. Real grass growing through the tabletops. In response to death in the artist’s hometown in Colombia.

Route: New walk down Via Cavour to the Capitoline Museum on Piazza del Campidoglio, up Via Nazionale past institutional buildings to Bernini/Boromini’s opposing churches and four fountains to find that the Santa Maria della Vittoria was closed :(. To Barberini station to visit MAXXI, then metro home.

“A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” — Albert Camus

A fitting quote for a place where so much art is roped to the raft of religion. We visited two important art galleries today: the Capitoline Museum atop the Capitoline Hill, and Modern master Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts. Two drastically different kinds of gallery spaces. Two drastically different kinds of art. Two different spatial contexts.They are excellent summaries of the principles of old and new Rome that I have been investigating the past ten days.

Piazza del Campidoglio, Marco Aurelio centre.

Capitoline – Papal antiquity

Museo Capitolini is situated at the top of one of Rome’s seven hills, backing onto the ancient forums and fronted by Piazza del Campidoglio. The site is famous for it’s straightening of facades and fitting of the piazza into geometrical star-shaped symmetry by Michelangelo. In the centre of the square (circle?) stands a statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback in a pose mimicked in all of western Europe by every political figure on a horse. The collections are also Papal, so similar to what we saw in the Vatican Museums. A stunning array of marble sculptures of people with more mythical scenes and evidence of Rome’s pagan past, including a reconstruction of what the Temple to Isis in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva would have looked like using actual artifacts. It offers breathtaking views of the ruins in the Forum, as well as of Rome herself from atop the rooftop cafe terrace. The approach is extremely traditional: a sloped, strampy type of structure called a Cordonata.

The view of the Imperial Forum from the Museo

The museum itself is split into three buildings, one of which dips below into the hill to provide views of the Forum and provide passage between the East and West wings. They are each punctuated with outdoor courtyards which held the larger sculptures and allowed for great light to fill the museum.

The first time I saw striped marble used as a textile. Extremely skillful.

Interestingly, we were not allowed to sketch in this museum, but were allowed to take as many photos as we liked. The plan had no logical flow, at least that I could tell, and we wandered through halls back and forth back and forth, the sculptures all blending into one amorphous white, eyeless head. Another testament to it’s plan: our group split up after the main courtyard and remained scattered for the entire visit. Such is the case with other older buildings restored to have second, third, and tenth purposes.

Visible: the wooly mammoth leg, an array of clotheslines carrying childrens’ clothes, the long peekaboo horizontal windows, the strange futuristic silhouette.

MAXXI – Contemporary speed

If I had to use one word to describe Zaha Hadid’s contribution to Roman art, it would be speed. The entire building felt like a grey futurist painting with a streak of red smeared across. MAXXI is sited in the nearest northern suburb of Rome near where the rail tram turns around, so it looks almost like a train station. The approach is through colourful flags, afternoon glow, children running in the plaza shared with a daycare. All approaches are diagonal and unsloped: there is no clear way to say, this is the entrance to the building and you should walk here. The most direct route, which at this point, we were extremely accustomed to looking for and having laid out for us, was across plantings of trees, gaps in concrete slabs, and dangerously trip-hazard low fencing. Oh, and the wooly mammoth leg. It gained more architectural relevance to us when we found out it was actually supposed to be reminiscent of Brazilian huts, and I actually enjoyed the sound it made in the breeze. Still a wooly mammoth leg though. And still ugly. The building itself felt cold and inhuman, but not in an imposing way like the Vatican or the EUR. In a curious, futuristic way that encouraged you to reach out to touch it. There was so much negative space, especially compared to the wall to wall bust adornments of the Capitoline Museums. We carried out 15 minute sketching exercises in each room but were not allowed to take photos. MAXXI reminded me most of the VAG out of ever gallery I visited in Europe, because it was filled with unknown international artists, temporary installations curated on six different coalescing themes, was extremely air conditioned, and had a ridiculously capital A Art bookstore.

Speed.

Agility.

Flow.

Architecture that photographs extremely well but feels strange to be in.