Sunday, November 30, 2008

Photography at The Museo di Roma in Trastevere

I admit that one of my bad habits is catching exhibitions shortly before they close – as luck would have it the photography exhibition at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere - Lisette Model and her school. Photographs from 1937 – 2002 - was popular enough to be extended until 30 November. 

This is another of the art galleries in Rome of which I'm particularly fond. Although it is reasonably small with narrow corridor-like exhibition spaces on the upper floor, and the ground floor gallery following the perimeter of an internal cloister, this difficult space lends itself well to photography shows or other smaller works and the Lisette Model show is no exception. Curated by Diana Edkins and Larry Fink (whose photographs are also on display) this is a highly enjoyable introduction not only to Model's spontaneous 'street photography' and candid portraits of unsuspecting 'sitters' but also an excellent overview of the later generation of photographers who either trained under her or were highly influenced by her style. I particularly liked the social commentary of Eva Rubinstein's works as well as the portraits by Diane Arbus and Bruce Weber.

In complete contrast, I also enjoyed the exhibition of very recent journalistic sports photography from the Reuter's collection - Un mondo di sport – on display on the lower floor of the gallery until 28 Decemeber. These stunning images in colour document sports from around the world – from a global event like the Beijing Olympics to the obscure and bizarre such as the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling contest!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yael Naim | The Auditorium, Rome | 24 November, 2008

Yael Naim
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Whilst Yael Naim's world-wide fame may have been jump-started in the US by her infectiously catchy hit single New Soul being used by Apple in an advertising campaign to launch its MacBook Air, in Italy she's possibly best known for her brief guest appearance at the San Remo Music Festival last year when she performed the song on Italian television. Although her self-titled CD (which recently won Album of the Year in the World Music category at the Victoires de la Musique annual French music awards) has been out for a while now this immensely talented singer and musician is on a world tour, entitled New Soul, to promote the album.

Switching effortlessly between songs in French, English, and Hebrew, Yael Naim's music defies categorization and drifts through folk, pop and jazz – in fact, her concert at Sala Sinopoli at the Auditorium last night was presented as part of the Roma Jazz Festival – all sung in a voice that has the richness and range of a young Joni Mitchell...but not quite, because after a short while on stage, particularly after her slowed down piano reworking of Britney Spear's Toxic, comparisons with other artists fade, and the only appropriate adjective to describe Yael Naim quickly becomes “unique". And "wonderful"... And "FUNNY"! Disarmingly self-effacing in her between-song chat, often breaking into spontaneous giggles and leaping around the stage throwing off shoes and dancing – or rather pogo-ing! – she had the small crowd at Sala Sinopoli on its feet clapping, dancing and singing along. The reprise of New Soul in the encore was one of those "you had to have been there" moments as she divided the hall into three sections and had us all singing different harmonies.

Equally at home playing the piano, guitar and even what looked like a ukulele at one point, she was backed by three consummate musicians – her musical partner, the percussionist David Donatien (who is incidentally given a co-credit on her album), Laurent David on the bass and Xavier Tribolet on keyboards and accordion. Sheer perfection.

As a side note, at the end of the show she even stayed behind on stage signing autographs and posing for photographs (something I've never seen happen with any other bands at the Auditorium before).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Etruscans - The Ancient Cities of Lazio | Bill Viola - Inner Visions| Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Once again, the Palazzo delle Espozioni on Via Nazionale in Rome is proving to be one of most exciting exhibition spaces in the city with two major shows running simultaneously until January 6, 2009 exploiting the full potential of the sheer size of the galleries with the Etruscans - The Ancient Cities of Lazio (curated by Mario Torelli and Anna Maria Moretti) occupying the ground floor and Bill Viola's video installations – Inner Visions (curated by Kira Perov)– taking up the entire first floor.

The Etruscans exhibition has been promoted as one of the must-see shows in town this season with much made of the admittedly impressive partial reconstruction of the temple of Apollo in the central octagonal hall, however I was slightly disappointed by how many of the artifacts had come from the permanent Etruscan collection at Villa Giulia in Rome. There was also a video reconstruction of an Etruscan tomb which sought to recreate its initial discovery putting the viewer in the position of a kind of virtual archaeologist – a nice idea but poorly executed with inferior quality projected images. The exhibition remains, nevertheless, well worth a visit, particularly for anybody in Rome right now who hasn't already been to Villa Giulia or seen any of the Etruscans sites in Lazio. It gives an excellent overview of the often exquisite and eclectic Etruscan artistic output and is well organized thematically around the main urban centres of Etruscan activity - Veii, Cerveteri, Vulci and Tarquinia. I particularly liked the traditional and uniquely Etruscan "Bucchero" funerary objects with their black and highly polished surfaces which resemble metal.

Bill Viola
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bata ez
The Bill Viola exhibition, on the other hand, is a major retrospective by an important contemporary artist. It's a demanding show requiring an empty head, patience and lots of time – his video loops run for anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours and are, for the main part, shot entirely in slow motion – but the images stay with you for days after. Viola's work eloquently tackles all the great and timeless themes of man's existence from birth (and rebirth) to death with the full gamut of human emotions and experience in between. Many pieces were reminiscent of Renaissance paintings with explicit references to the Resurrection, Annunciation, Sacred Conversations and the Pietà. Unmissable.

Glimpses of many of Bill Viola's works are available online at the official website of the exhibition.

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