Living in Rome
Rome is slowly trying to catch up with other major cities for contemporary art venues. Its newly opened contemporary art museum, the MAXXI, designed by the celebrated anglo-iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid, has been the object of many reviews and press articles recently (see previous posts). However, a more discreet contemporary art centre, set up about ten years ago by the city of Rome (as opposed to the Italian government), is proving just as interesting. The so-called MACRO, or Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, was born out of an initiative to rehabilitate old factories, and as such occupies two separate spaces which have in common to be industrial landmarks of the city: the old Peroni brewery north of the historic centre and the former slaughterhouse in the Testaccio neighbourhood. They may not be as architecturally glamorous as the MAXXI building, but they were both successfully transformed into contemporary art spaces. Today, they have managed to become dynamic venues showing a range of contemporary art from established artists and performers to up and coming international and Roman artists. Of the two, MACRO is my personal favourite. Whenever I go there, I feel I can breathe contemporary art which doesn’t happen that often in Rome.
In a recent visit to the MACRO “Peroni” in via Nizza, I discovered that in the late sixties/seventies, Rome had a vibrant experimental art scene, spearheaded by a young gallerist and the group of artists he represented. The gallery, named L’Attico was initially based on a terrace on piazza di Spagna, but quickly moved to a bare garage in the Flaminio area, just north of piazza del Popolo. There, they organised many avant-garde art exhibitions and performances, mixing music, visual arts and theatre. The Arte Povera artist, Jannis Kounellis famously brought in live horses as part of an installation. Building up on his success, the gallerist, Fabio Sargentini, went on to open another space in Rome, this time in an old palazzo on via del Paradiso near campo de’ fiori to create a link with the city’s artistic past. The Flaminio garage was flooded in 1976, and that was the end of his life as an art space. The flood itself became the object of a live installation, the last one there.
The story of l’Attico was part of an exhibition held at MACRO which as a museum tries to keep a focus on Rome and its contemporary art scene, whether past or present. I personnally find that every time I go to MACRO, I discover something I didn’t know. It can be the story of an important gallery as with l’Attico, a new artist or a specific work I hadn’t seen before.
The MACRO other space, the Mattatoio or slaughterhouse, is fascinating also for what it used to be: a place where livestock were taken to be killed. Everything was left in place to remind us of its macabre past: the hooks where carcasses hang, the stone tables where they were cut, the thick plastic curtains as well as the rails taking the animals in and out of the building. They are today part of the new art space. An exhibition by Christian Boltanski a few years ago made full use of the hooks and rails, hanging clothes instead of carcasses. Although the French artist is known to work with the subject of death and memory, this show was particularly eery because of its venue.
Most of the exhibitions I have seen at MACRO were temporary, even though it is building up a permanent collection. Overall, it feels like the institution has a direction, showing a mix of established artists and lesser known ones, but always keeping a connection with the city of Rome.