Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MAXXI in Rome

My trip included some days in Rome; I visited several contemporary art galleries, including the newest of them, MAXXI (Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, or National Museum of the Arts of the 21st Century).  It is in a stunning building, designed by Zaha Hadid, based around sweeping parallel curves.  When it opened it attracted mixed reviews for its suitability as an art gallery, with one reviewer describing it as "tyrannical", and people I know who have visited it have described it as completely overpowering the art.  On my visit I didn't feel this, at least with respect to the main exhibition, a massive retrospective for Michelangelo Pistoletto, about whom I knew nothing.  Since there isn't a lot of 21st century art yet, the gallery condescends to show 20th century art, and the Pistoletto retrospective covered the years 1956-1974 (though I think Pistoletto is still active).

One of our lecturers at Prato commented that in Australia we tend to have an Anglo-American-centric view of art after World War 2, and my trip has borne this out: Pistoletto is one of four significant 20th century Italian artists whose work I have encountered in the time I have spent in Italy.  The others were Marino Marini in Pistoia and Giorgio Morandi in Bologna, both thanks to the Prato program, and Bice Lazzaro in Rome.  I should say that others in the group knew about at least some of these people - I shouldn't generalise too much from my own ignorance!

Pistoletto's work as shown in the MAXXI exhibition covered a wide range: his figurative paintings on mirrors were notable, but he also made works in the 1960s relating to both conceptual and minimal art, was a leader of the Arte Povera movement, made works using industrial materials such as Mylar film, and also had a performing group that held events both in galleries and in public spaces.  My favourite "conceptual" work in the show was "A Cubic Metre of Infinity", six mirrors lashed together to form a cube with the mirrored surfaces on the inside.  From the outside it is just a grey box, and of course you can't see the inside.

The exhibition contained an interesting timeline showing events in Pistoletto's career in parallel with events in Italian politics, ranging from postwar bitterness and reconstruction (Pistoletto was born in 1933), through to the student unrest in the 1960s and the sabotage and kidnappings carried out by the Red Brigades.  The work shown was not political in a sloganeering way, but was certainly related to the spirit of the times.  Another lecturer in Prato said that according to an Italian artist friend of his, Florence was the hardest city in the world to be a contemporary artist, and surely Italy must be one of the hardest countries.  Pistoletto, who lived in or around the industrial city of Turin rather than the history-of-art-laden tourist magnet of Florence, nonetheless found a way.

 No pictures of the works inside, unfortunately, but this is the entrance to MAXXI.

And this is MAXXI's foyer.  The building is pretty well unphotographable!

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