Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rome: The Painting of an Empire at the Scuderie del Quirinale – Closing Weeks!

Art lovers visiting the Eternal City over the holiday period will have found themselves spoilt for choice with fine shows on offer in all the major galleries. For anybody here to immerse themselves in ancient Rome, however, the Scuderie del Quirinale's magnificent show Roma: Pittura di un Impero, which covers Roman painting from the 1st century BC to the 5th AD, should be a top priority.

It's a beautifully curated show – the lighting is necessarily low, yet the work is perfectly lit throughout and the large frescoes on the lower floor of the building are given enough gallery space to recreate a stunning semblance of the rooms and halls of the Roman residences they once adorned. Indeed, it came as little surprise to learn that the hanging of this exhibition had been orchestrated by somebody with a keen eye for set design – Italian theatre and opera director Luca Ronconi – and much of the work on the lower floor particularly, feels highly theatrical. The opening room includes a fresco from the Casa delle Maschere di Soluto in Palermo featuring a mask of Vecchio Pan – a nod to the highly influentially Greek art and theatre that came before. Further along, I was held captivated by the nearly nine metres of amazingly well preserved fresco from the triclinium (dining room) known as the Stanza Nera (Black Room) of Villa della Farnesina - highly decorative garlands of vine leaves hang loosely between improbably delicate white painted columns which divide the black, almost indigo, background on which the faint remains of unknown figures float in some strange, ethereal moonlit landscape...

The collection of Roman portraits on fresco, mosaic or even glass, as well as some of the most well-known Roman portraits from the Egyptian oasis of El Fayyum are the stars of the show in the upper gallery. I'd seen some of the painted funereal portraits in the British Museum in London but was once again amazed by the sheer modernity of Roman painting technique – daubs of colour and abbreviated marks that captured the essence of their subject and at first glance look stylistically so close to 16th century painting – and was more than happy to see them again here in this wonderful exhibition.

With over 100 pieces of work on display all told this is one exhibition you simply must see!

Rome: The Painting of an Empire at the Scuderie del Quirinale continues until 17 January 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas - Buon Natale from Rome!

We took a stroll over to St. Peter's Square at the Vatican yesterday evening. Whilst the traditional nativity scene was still under wraps and the lights on the 100 foot tall Christmas tree were off - the unveiling of the crib and the lighting-up of the tree will happen today, Christmas Eve - the monumental facade of St. Peter's Basilica illuminated at night remains one of the city's most evocative images.

Buon Natale!

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Alexander Calder at the Gagosian Gallery!

If the major Alexander Calder retrospective at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni leaves you wanting even more then head over to the consistently excellent Gagosian Gallery on Via Francesco Crispi where there's also a small, yet rewarding, Alexander Calder exhibition running at present.

The show opens with a human scale steel sculpture from 1957- Five Points/Triangles - and closes with a handful of works on paper, but the heart of the show is without doubt the monumental sculpture commissioned for Mies van der Rohe's American Republic Insurance Company building in Des Moines, Iowa, - Spunk of the Monk (1964) – which stretches across one end of the main oval gallery like some enormous black steel spider. Whilst it shares the large space with only one other piece - Triumphant Red (1959-63) - a huge mobile spanning almost six metres and suspended from the ceiling, it was this work which immediately drew my attention. At the Palazzo delle Esposizioni show Calder's monumental sculptures are represented through smaller maquettes or photographs, but here the free standing work is large enough for visitors to walk right underneath its welded arches and fully interact with the piece.

Highly recommended!

Alexander Calder: Monumental Sculpture continues at the Gagosian Gallery at Via Francesco Crispi, 16 until 30 January, 2010.

Photo © Gagosian Gallery (Web-resolution, fair use)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alexander Calder at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome

Regular readers of Living in Rome will have realised that I'm a frequent visitor to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni which continues to be my favourite arts centre in the city. With its current exhibition of the work of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) its curators have once again chosen a perfect subject – it would be difficult to think of a more rewarding space than the cavernous central hallway and high-ceilinged rooms of the Palazzo for displaying his large, suspended mobiles, which sway, albeit gently, in the currents of air moving through the steel rafters of the restructured galleries.

This is an exhaustive show which covers not only sculpture from throughout his entire career – the earliest pieces, a dog and duck made from bent sheets of very thin brass, were created by Calder when he was only eleven! - but also numerous paper works, such as gouache paintings and some delightful early pen and ink sketches of animals. In spite of the scale of the exhibition, however, the work never feels crowded, with every item – be it a wire sculpture, a hanging mobile or a free standing monumental floor piece – given space to breathe. Hercules and Lion and the Guggenheim's wonderfully witty Romulus and Remus, two wire sculptures from 1928, are shown side by side and strongly lit against a white background – the shadows they cast emphasise perfectly how much Calder seemed to be drawing in space with wire.

Looking around me when I visited the show, I noticed that people were smiling more often than not as they gazed at the mobiles – captivated by how sheets of metal suspended on the thinnest of wires could evoke the fluttering, even trembling of leaves or snow flakes.

As the perfect compliment and to fully round out the Calder experience the upper floor of the Palazzo is hosting an exhibition of Photographs of Alexander Calder by Ugo Mulas, which gives a fascinating insight into his working methods, home and studio life. There is also a series of films being projected during the day - most notably by Marcel Duchamp – which feature the artist's work.

If you're in Rome over the holiday season be sure to catch this show! It's unmissable!

Calder is curated by Alexander S. C. Rower and continues at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni until 14 February 2010.

Photo of Romulus and Remus © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Calder Foundation (Web-resolution, fair use).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

No Berlusconi Day – The Purple Revolution

No Berlusconi Day
After the overwhelming turn out in defence of press freedom in October this year when over 300,000 descended on Piazza del Popolo in Rome, people took to the streets again yesterday for No Berlusconi Day to demand the resignation of Italian Prime Minister and wannabe dictator Silvio Berlusconi.

This time round there were even more people – the organisers claim over a million participants (whilst the local authorities, rather predictably, claimed the laughably low figure of 90,000) – I witnessed hundreds of thousands of people in a seemingly never-ending stream of protesters dressed in purple who marched from Piazza della Republica along the streets of the capital to Piazza San Giovanni, which was quickly filled to capacity.

In what should be a wakeup call to the old guard of Italian politics this peaceful protest was organised entirely through the Internet, and in particular via social network Facebook – the initiative's Facebook page alone had over 360,000 virtual supporters prior to the march, which in itself made a mockery of the state's false participation figures.

Let’s save Italy, Let’s save democracy. Let’s ask for Berlusconi’s resignation

Read the full appeal in English here

No Berlusconi Day

No Berlusconi Day

All photos © Deborah Swain

Monday, November 30, 2009

Live Sonification of 'Aelita' by Gamers In Exile | Palazzo Delle Esposizioni | 29 November 2009

Guido Zen and Valerio Camporini Faggioni aka Gamers in Exile, the critically acclaimed Italian electronic soundscapers, were in Rome on Sunday at the Palazzo Delle Esposizioni for a very special event – the Live Sonification of the 1924 Russian silent film Aelita: Queen of Mars.

The duo are no strangers to film soundtracks - last year they scored Biùtiful cauntri, an Italian documentary about illegal toxic waste dumping in Southern Italy, which against all odds, enjoyed both critical success and even a brief run in cinemas both home and abroad – but here, in creating the only sounds for a silent movie, they had constructed an entirely new sonic world for Yakov Protazanov's socialist science-fiction block buster!

The music - at times a hypnotically mechanical mash-up of found sounds, at others a haunting and lyrical expression of a character's mood - was always beautifully sympathetic to the images on screen. And what a film! Its incredible Martian sets are perfect example of Russian Constructivism and its impact on later Sci-Fi films of the 1930s and beyond was clear. Whilst its influence on Flash Gordon and Metropolis is often cited, the Martian soldiers didn't look so very different from Star Wars storm troopers to me!

The film was shown as part of a short season of films about space travel – Spaziale! - which coincides with the exhibition Stars and Particles. The Voice of the Universe

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stories by Matteo Peretti at Emmeotto Gallery on Via Margutta

I have to admit that whenever I wander down Via Margutta and look at the private galleries it isn't often that I'm wildly impressed by anything I see there. All that changed the other day, however, when I happened upon Emmeotto and a show dedicated to the young Roman artist Matteo Peretti. I only intended staying long enough to kill time before a lunch appointment at my favourite vegetarian restaurant Il Margutta which is just up the road, but was so impressed I ended up being late for lunch and going back later for a second look!

Stories is a substantial exhibition which gathers together forty pieces of work, many of which are constructed from a jumble of assembled old toys and found objects – Toy Story would have fit equally well as a title for this show - with pieces ranging from free standing sculptures to bas-relief monochrome collages. Whilst there's something undeniably eclectic about the work - think Duchamp's readymades meets Jeff Koons – Peretti's takes his own very personal brand of pop art into the 21st century by putting an ironic spin on the genre with contemporary political and social references. Whilst some of the portraits might be a little obvious - the first piece on show, for example, is entitled George W, and is a grinning moss-covered chimpanzee head, whilst Barack is represented as a tiny man propping up a large globe – there are others such as Cinque, a monochrome Yves Klein blue surface teeming with melted and reassembled toys, tanks and guns, which are simply beautiful.

Anybody who has lived in this country or seen any TV in Italy will enjoy the humour in the hollowed out television carcasses such as Synthetic Brain - Ferrari crammed full of Barbie dolls and other figures like a chaotic Italian nativity scene or presepe. My favourite piece in the entire show, however, was Snoopy – a strangely haunting assemblage of toys with the recognisable Peanuts character in its midst. Ash grey in colour and with a matte almost dusty finish, it reminded me in some strange way of the figures at Pompeii.

As somebody who collects vintage action figures I often needed to put my feelings aside as I spotted Spider-Man and other more or less recognisable heroes in the mix and kept reminding myself that they had been sacrificed for a higher purpose! Highly recommended!

Stories by Matteo Peretti is curated by Martina Cavallarin and continues at Emmeotto until 21 November 2009

EMMEOTTO - Via Margutta, 8 - 00187 Roma

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Playing the Piano | The Auditorium, Rome | 28 October, 2009

After the recent Rome film festival which focussed on the environment with its Cape Farewell: Art & Climate Change exhibition and events, it would be hard to imagine a better way of maintaining the creative continuity at the Auditorium Parco della Musica than with the presence of an artist who is not only a Cape Farewell collaborator himself, but also a composer of some of the most memorable film scores of recent years - Ryuichi Sakamoto. The concert, in a packed Santa Cecilia hall on Wednesday evening, opened with the haunting lament for the melting ice caps – Glacier – taken from his latest CD Out of Noise. Whilst a taped soundscape of dripping water and incidental noises reverberated through the theatre, Sakamoto crouched over one of the two Yamaha pianos on stage, reached inside and picked the piano strings. Last year he travelled to Disko Bay on the West coast of Greenland as part of the Cape Farewell creative team and recorded sound at the mouth of Sermeg Avangnardleq Glacier – I'm not certain if these background sounds were those he gathered there, but certainly echoes of the trip were evident. It was a stunning opening, which moved straight into the hypnotic Hibari with its myriad loops and variations on a single theme. After these first pieces Sakamoto then took the microphone and announced that he'd now be playing whatever the mood dictated...there would be no prearranged set list here!

In a performance of seemingly boundless tenderness and generosity he then went on to play for another two hours, including not only music from his early days with the Yellow Magic Orchestra such as the exhilarating Happy End, but also some of his most famous movie themes - The Sheltering Sky and of course, the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor. Curiously, this tour also sees Sakamoto duet with himself – whilst he plays one of the two pianos live on stage the second instrument “plays” a pre-programmed sequence, with the empty piano stool even spot lit during some songs. The brilliance of his performance soon won over the fidgety and coughing members of the audience – maddeningly at least a third of the people in attendance seemed to need to cough every few seconds during the quiet and intimate opening pieces – and as the evening progressed the audience response grew steadily warmer and warmer until rapturous cheers and applause eventually brought him back out on stage for three encores.

It would be hard to pick any highlights but Energy Flow, Thousand Knives, Bibo no Aozora and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence were sheer perfection.

Ryuichi Sakamoto's Playing the Piano is a carbon-free tour presented as part of Romaeuropa Festival 2009 and Santa Cecilia's It's Wonderful.

Video link

Photograph of Ryuichi Sakamoto on the Cape Farewell Disko Bay Expedition © Nathan Gallagher

Friday, October 23, 2009

Meryl Streep Dazzles Crowds at Rome Film Festival

Meryl Streep Photo by Francesca GoriTry as the organisers might to hype up the events aimed at promoting home grown talent, the biggest crowd pullers this year at what is, after all, an international film festival, have been the big Hollywood names. Yesterday was no exception to the rule, with the arrival of one of the greatest actresses of all time and a true movie icon – Meryl Streep – here to present both her latest film Julie & Julia, in which she plays the part of legendary American TV chef Julia Child, and also collect the festival's lifetime achievement prize the Marc'Aurelio Alla Carriera (The Gold Marc'Aurelio Career Award). Following in the footsteps of previous recipients of the award, Sophia Loren and Al Pacino, she appeared on the stage in a packed Sala Sinopoli in conversation with festival stalwarts Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, in what turned out to be a truly wonderful Encounter with Meryl Streep.

The evening began with a moving documentary about the actor John Cazale - I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale – introduced by the director Richard Shepard. Meryl Streep, who had been engaged to Cazale at the time of his tragically young death from cancer, had specifically requested that the documentary be shown prior to her appearance so that the audience would understand the importance of this man in both her life and on her work as an actress. The five films in which he co-starred - The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter – are some of the greatest films ever made and this closer look at Cazale certainly made me want to go back and revisit all of them. There would be no need to ask further questions about their relationship in the following encounter – the film had already said it all - and as the titles rolled, the film was met with loud and respectful applause from the audience.

When Meryl Streep then appeared to rapturous cheers and an instant standing ovation, even the usually unflappable Monda and Sesti seemed momentarily starstruck in her presence, although an intimate conversational atmosphere was quickly established thanks to her warmth and humour. In fact, at the end of the hour or so she was on stage, the sensation one was left with was that of laughter – she irradiated serenity, stunning beauty and intelligence, but most of all, she was very funny and ready to laugh at herself. At one point she was suddenly plagued by strange electronic sounds and interference on her microphone. Joking that she was going to offer herself to NASA because of her importance to science, she went onto explain that computers, iPhones and other devices seem to die on her, and speculated that maybe she had a magnetic force field around her which was causing the interference, adding dryly: or maybe it's the diamonds I'm wearing! After watching a clip from her Oscar-winning performance in Sophie's Choice, and being asked about her ability to perfectly reproduce foreign accents, she blamed that on the magnetic force field too, saying it helped her pick up people's speech and mannerisms!

Having the chance to see Meryl Streep's affectionate impersonation of a mumbling Robert De Niro was priceless, whilst her description of how she reads a script – I look at scripts in the way that actors do: blah blah blah blah blah... ME ME ME... blah blah blah... ME! - brought the house down.

The evening was a mix of conversation and clips from her movies, with the snippets and questions from the hosts acting as a springboard to wider discussion – The Devil Wears Prada, Sophie's Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer, Manhattan, The Deer Hunter, Falling in Love, The Bridges of Madison County were all there, although it was the singing and dancing Meryl Streep in the Dancing Queen sequence from Mamma Mia! that closed the evening to huge cheers.

Seemingly in no hurry to disappear off stage, she stayed as long as the organisers would allow signing autographs for the many fans who rushed the stage at the end of the encounter.

Photograph of Meryl Streep © Francesca Gori

Video link

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hollywood comes to Rome - Richard Gere and George Clooney at Rome Film Festival

Encounter with Richard Gere at Rome Film Festival 2009
If the opening night of the Rome Film Festival was a rather low key event, Saturday saw the festival ratchet the excitement up several notches as Hollywood came to town in the form of two of the world's most popular actors, George Clooney and Richard Gere. The red carpet and the open-air Cavea at the Auditorium were literally swamped with fans as Clooney - in town with the in-competition movie Up in the Air directed by Jason Reitman (2007 festival winner with Juno) – took a leisurely stroll up the red carpet, signing dozens of autographs and chatting to fans, whilst earlier in the afternoon, those of us lucky enough to grab tickets, were able to see Richard Gere in conversation in Sala Petrassi.

It was a relaxed and utterly charming Richard Gere who joined Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti on stage in what is now a traditional format in the Rome Film Festival Encounters, with conversation mixed with clips from notable screen performances and an extended Q&A session with members of the audience. Very early on in the encounter, in fact, Richard Gere asked that the house lights be raised so that he could see us - "now we're in this together!"

Kicking off with a clip from Days of Heaven, he spoke about working with the demanding but complex Terence Malick early on in his career, as well as his experiences with other legendary directors such as Francis Ford Coppola on The Cotton Club, illustrated by a clip of the trumpet-playing Gere, which prompted an affectionate credit to his mother for having sent him to music lessons as a child! Although there was nothing from Dr T and the Women he also spoke about the friendship and influence of Robert Altman. The sheer versatility of an all-singing, all-dancing actor who embodies something of Old School Hollywood was further highlighted by clips from his Golden Globe performance in Chicago and the more recent Shall We Dance, although inevitably a montage from his iconic roles in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman brought the loudest cheers from the enthusiastic audience. Box office smash Pretty Woman – "even a tribesman in Borneo with a bone though his nose has seen that movie", he joked – was also on the roster, as was a dramatic court room scene from the thriller Red Corner, which with its Chinese political overtones would resound later in the encounter when Gere, a long-time Buddhist and friend of the Dalai Lama, was asked about Tibet. He answered thoughtfully and with some notable melancholy about the spiritual need for China to embrace the Dalai Lama in what will be the inevitable fall of Communism in China, and also added that the people of Rome were blessed to have a spiritual brother in His Holiness (who was made an honorary citizen earlier this year).

The Rome Film Festival may be still be a fledgling on the main circuit but with events of this calibre here's hoping it continues to go from strength to strength.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Legend Sir Christopher Lee at Opening of Rome Film Festival 2009

Sir Christopher Lee at Rome Film Festival 2009
The fourth edition of the Rome Film Festival began yesterday on the very day that the balmy Indian summer that Rome had been previously enjoying ended abruptly, so it was a very chilly walk up the red carpet for the stars attending the European premiere of Danis Tanovic's war movie Triage. Possible because of the sudden December-like temperatures, crowds were noticeably thinner for this opening event than in previous years, and there were rumbles of disappointment when it became clear that the film's protagonist, Colin Farrell would not be appearing. However, the director Tanovic, and Farrell's co-stars Paz Vega and a true living legend of cinema, Sir Christopher Lee, were there. I'd rushed over to the Auditorium, in fact, when I heard that the recently knighted Christopher Lee would be appearing! He was greeted with spontaneous and respectful applause as he made his way up the red carpet, whilst Paz Vega signed autographs and posed for numerous photographs. The famously shy Margherita Buy, the Italian actress who is the “Madrina” of this edition, looked stunning, if visibly cold, as she braved her way through her obligatory photo call.

With Richard Gere, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and the Coen brothers lined up to appear later this week, hopefully the festival will gather more momentum and draw bigger crowds.

In what is almost a tradition at this festival, there was also a noisy political protest just prior to the arrival of the VIPs, when Gabriele Paolini - well-known to anybody who has watched the news on Italian television, for his attempts to disturb reporters by standing behind them during live outside broadcasts – suddenly appeared, megaphone in hand, and shouted a tirade against Silvio Berlusconi.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rome Film Festival and Climate Change on Blog Action Day

Today, 15 October 2009, is Blog Action Day 2009 when, once again, thousands of bloggers around the world all write a post about one important topic. After the success of the 2008 initiative when bloggers looked at Poverty, this year the focus is on Climate Change.

Today also happens to be the opening day of the Rome Film Festival, which will also be taking a very special look at the impact of climate change on our planet in the form of a multimedia exhibition on display in the exhibition areas of the Auditorium Parco della Musica. There will be a series of encounters at 18.00 every day, with the various artists involved in the project - Cape Farewell: Art & Climate Change - whose paintings, photographs and audio/video installations are the result of their own personal experiences encountered during trips to Cape Farewell, in Greenland.

  • Friday 16 October - Quentin Cooper and Suba Subramaniam will discuss Education
  • Saturday 17 October - David Buckland, David Hinton, Peppe Ruggiero and Esmerlada Calabria will tackle the subject of Cinema
  • Sunday 18 October - Max Eastley, Siobhan Davies and Jarvis Cocker will look at Music
  • Monday 19 October - Peter Clegg and Mario Cucinella will discuss Architecture
  • Tuesday 20 October - The Cape Farewell project creator David Buckland and Dan Harvey will discuss Art
The exhibition will remain open throughout the film festival from 9.00 until 23.00 each day, until 23 October and has been organised by the Cape Farewell Foundation in collaboration with the British Council, the British Embassy in Rome and the Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma.

The Auditorium Parco della Musica of Rome is on Viale Pietro de Coubertin, near the Palazzetto dello Sport, off Viale Tiziano.

Photograph © David Buckland
End of Ice, 2006 (detail)
Used with permission

Sunday, October 4, 2009

300,000 in Defence of Press Freedom!

Whilst anybody who has been following recent events in Italy might have expected this protest to be big, nothing could have prepared one for the sheer scale of the demonstration in defence of press freedom yesterday in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The official start time was half past three but people had clearly begun gathering in the streets long before; when we got there a little later, the piazza was already full to capacity with more and more people, from the very young hoisted on shoulders of parents, to the elderly, who had braved the teeming masses to support the cause, arriving as the afternoon went on. It was as if, en masse, people had suddenly been shaken out of a protracted torpor, and at long last leapt into action. At first we found ourselves blocked at the entrance to the piazza, although from the vantage point of the steps of Santa Maria Del Popolo, could watch people arriving. All the participants, however illustrious, arrived through the main gate - the Porta del Popolo - and were applauded by the crowds as one person after another noticed them. Outspoken TV host Michele Santoro, whose show has been the centre of a recent media storm, was given a hero’s welcome, but the biggest cheers were reserved for the bravest of the brave. There was a sudden ripple of applause which grew into a crescendo of cheers and shouts of bravo!bravo! as Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorra, was seen pushing his way through the crowds surrounded by the bodyguards he sadly now needs, on his way to the stage.

Organised by the Federation of Italian journalists (FNSI) in defence of press freedom, this was surely the strongest protest ever against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s constant attempts to silence any criticism of his regime in the media. Predictably, the main news reports on both Rai 1 and Rai 2 last night spoke disparagingly of the event and underestimated attendance as being in the “tens of thousands” Pictures, in this case, speak louder than words...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

La Fontana del Facchino - The Little Porter Fountain

Il Facchino - Via Lata off Via del Corso, Rome
Welcome to the first of a new series of posts - Discover Rome - taking a closer look at some of the hidden treasures of Rome and some of my favourite Roman curiosities that are sometimes overshadowed by the city's more famous landmarks.

Whilst many visitors to Rome will have probably seen the statues of Pasquino or Il Babuino, it would be easy to miss the fountain which is my personal favourite of the so-called 'Congregation of Wits', otherwise known as Rome’s 'Talking Statues' - Il Facchino (The Porter).

Once situated on Via del Corso, this late sixteenth-century fountain of a water seller carrying a leaking barrel was moved to the side street Via Lata, in 1874, where it is found to this day, tucked away from the teeming masses of tourists and shoppers along the main street. Generally thought to be the work of Jacopo Del Conte, in 1751 the architect Luigi Vanvitelli attributed the statue to Michelangelo Buonarroti!

Traditionally, political satires known as pasquinades, written anonymously by the ordinary people of Rome to ridicule the ruling classes and the Pope, were attached to the talking statues. Whilst Pasquino is still covered with photocopied grievances and political flyers to this day, the craggy faced porter is pretty much ignored, apart from the odd bit of ubiquitous Roman graffiti.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cindy Sherman at the Gagosian Gallery

Earlier this year I wrote enthusiastically about the stunning Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery on Via Francesco Crispi. Clearly, that show was no flash in the pan, because the Gagosian is currently presenting another gem of a show with a series of portraits by New York photographer Cindy Sherman. The main oval exhibition space, which must surely require extra consideration when hanging a show, works particularly well as a location for these very large Sherman images. As ever, each of the photographs is a self-portrait of sorts, yet whilst the “real” Cindy Sherman is playing a carefully constructed part, hidden behind makeup, wigs and meticulously chosen props, as the viewer walks around the continuous, curved space, a sense of recognition in each of the faces grows, a sense of being surrounded by the artist herself. In fact, in the press release Sherman is quoted as saying:

I think they are the most realistic characters I have done. I completely empathised with them. They could be me. That's what was really scary, how easy it was to make myself look like that.
These studies of middle-aged affluent women, expensively dressed and set against studio-style backdrops illustrating the trappings of wealth and success, are unflinching in detailing every imperfection and tell tale signs of ageing, ultimately rendering these superficially successful women exposed and vulnerable.

A wonderful show.

Cindy Sherman continues at the Gagosian Gallery at Via Francesco Crispi, 16 until 19 September, 2009

Photo © Gagosian Gallery

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Diabolik and Eva Kant at Palazzo Incontro

The Italian anti-hero of comic books Diabolik and his partner in love and crime Eva Kant are the stars of the largest ever exhibition dedicated to their “diaboliKal life” at Palazzo Incontro. An absolute must-see for fans of this iconic Italian character known as The King of Terror, the exhibition includes masses of Diabolik memorabilia, posters, advertising billboards, scale models of some of his most exciting gadgets, and the Holy Grail of the entire show, the 10 original hand-drawn plates of the very first issue of Diabolik.

The show is entirely in Italian and there’s lots to read with detailed panels throughout the show, but for those of you visiting Rome over August who don’t speak Italian, it’s still worth a visit if you find yourself in the area, as there are many other items to look at - particularly in the Diabolik between science and science fiction section which is essentially a show within the main show featuring Franco Nodo’s scale models of Diabolik’s E-Type Jaguar.

I also particularly enjoyed The Diabolik Sisters, an Italian documentary showing on the ground floor about the life of Angela and Luciana Giussani, the creators of Diabolik.

Diabolik - Eva Kant: Una vita vissuta diabolikamente, curated by Vincenzo Mollica, in collaboration with Astorina, runs until 13 September, 2009

(Free Entrance)
Palazzo Incontro
Via dei Prefetti, 22

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Antony and the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra | The Auditorium, Rome | 28 July, 2009

After his sell out performance at Sala Santa Cecilia in March this year, Antony Hegarty was back at the Auditorium, Parco della Musica on Tuesday evening in one of the most eagerly anticipated appointments of the Luglio Suona Bene calendar. Rather than appearing with his usual band, the Johnsons, this time he was accompanied on the Cavea stage by the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra - under the direction of Johnsons stalwart Rob Moose, with another Johnsons regular, Julia Kent, as guest performer on cello. The performance was one of a small number of very special shows during a Summer Symphony Tour which sees both old and new songs by Antony and the Johnsons presented in a totally new way with orchestral arrangements developed by Antony and long term collaborator Nico Muhly, who also worked on the orchestral scoring of the last album The Crying Light. This exquisite album was well represented in the set list - the haunting Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground and a devastating Another World, as well as Dust and Water and Everglade, and the title track The Crying Light itself as the encore.

As is usual in an Antony concert there were also some brand new songs - tantalising live performances that may, or may not, make it to a recording session in the future - such as the exhilarating Salt,Silver,Oxygen and the hypnotically beautiful Christina’s Farm - as well as the often played but ne’er recorded Everything is New. It was also thrilling to hear Antony’s take on Beyoncé's Crazy In Love - we were quite some way into the song before I clicked that this was what he was singing “Got me hoping you'll page me right now” isn’t a typical Antony lyric, but as ever, he made the line his own! Of the earlier recordings Cripple and the Starfish stole the show with a stunning arrangement that made one feel this already wonderful song had finally found its definitive reading.

As I said in my last review, Antony is an artist at the very height of his powers – both vocally and creatively - and this concert, the fourth time I’ve seen him perform, reconfirmed to me that he is indeed, one of only a handful of artists that one feels privileged to be alive at just the right moment in time to hear them sing live… one of those artists truly touched by genius. Unmissable every time!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tracy Chapman: Our Bright Future | The Auditorium, Rome | 27 July, 2009

Tracy Chapman in Rome 2009The hugely talented singer-songwriter and guitarist Tracy Chapman has been a frequent visitor to the Eternal City over the last few years, and judging from the warmth of the welcome she was given by the audience in the Cavea at the Auditorium Music Park as part of the Luglio Suona Bene concert programme, Rome is happy to have her back!

She seemed in a buoyant mood and the sometimes shy performer chatted between songs about visiting the sights of Rome the previous day, inviting us to look up at the gorgeous crescent moon that was rising over the Auditorium, and introducing and explaining a little about the new tracks on the set list. The concert last night, in fact, was the closing date of a full band European tour promoting her eighth album Our Bright Future, and she played several songs from this latest outing - the lovely Sing For You, the humorous I Did it All and the ironic take on religious fanaticism Save Us All - as well as some of her greatest mainstream successes. After opening with the powerfully political America from her penultimate album Where You Live, she surprisingly went straight into one of the great sing-along crowd pleasers Baby Can I Hold You. I’ll never tire of hearing Tracy Chapman sing those early songs and was delighted that she included four further tracks from her first self-titled album - Fast Car, Talkin’ Bout a Revolution, For My Lover as well as She's Got Her Ticket as part of the encore - but one of the absolute highlights for me has to be Give Me One Reason. After one full slower blues version she then decided to ratchet up the volume and gave us part two - a full, start-to-finish rock-blues version too! Brilliant.

During this tour she’s been playing a special cover version each night, although she confessed that they’ve sometimes repeated themselves, however, the cover version for Rome for the evening was a one-off. If you wanted to catch Tracy Chapman play Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi you had to have been there last night! She closed the show with a stunning Proud Mary. A wonderful evening - can’t wait for next time!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

David Byrne: Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno | The Auditorium, Rome | 20 July, 2009

David Byrne - Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
As sometimes happens over the summer months in Rome, there were a couple of major events running concurrently yesterday evening with a huge free concert in Piazza del Popolo to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk featuring Moby, whilst at the Auditorium Music Park a smaller but enthusiastic crowd had turned out to see an exhilarating show by ex-Talking Heads front man David Byrne. To see such an important musician and artist, whose back catalogue includes songs such as Once in a Lifetime, which occupy an almost iconic place in popular music history, is already an event in itself - that this tour sees him accompanied by an all-singing, all-dancing backing band reminded us that we were also in the presence of a consummate showman!

The Rome date was one of the stops in a mini-tour of Italy and included many tracks from last year’s collaboration with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, as well as revisiting their earlier, groundbreaking work together on the seminal My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and even earlier albums with Talking Heads. From the moment that Byrne et al walked on stage dressed entirely in white, lending the show a simple yet strikingly stylish look, a sense of sheer enthusiasm and fun pervaded the whole performance - when each and every band member appeared on stage wearing a tutu during one of the encores to play Burning Down the House and STILL manage to look cool, they brought the house down!

The perfect set list which mixed both old songs and new tracks underlined how classics from the Eno-produced Talking Heads albums Fear of Music and Remain in Light are timeless, sounding as fresh today as when they first appeared, and how absolutely relevant Byrne and Eno’s continued collaboration remains today. Coming back on stage to ecstatic whooping and hollering and foot stamping for a third (or was it fourth…I lost count!) encore, the concert came to a close with the alt-country/gospel strains of 'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today'.


David Byrne was joined on stage by:
  • Mauro Refosco - percussion
  • Paul Frazier - bass
  • Graham Hawthorne - drums
  • Mark Declination - keyboards
  • Kaissa Doumbe Moulongo, Ray Frazier, Jenni Muldaur - backing vocals
  • Lily Baldwin, Steven Reker, Natalie Kuhn - dancers

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mogwai | The Auditorium, Rome | 18 July, 2009

Mogwai - 18 July, 2009, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
The annual season of open air music events during July at the Auditorium Music Park - Luglio Suona Bene - continues this year with an eclectic programme of concerts, with Saturday evening seeing Glaswegian post-rock band Mogwai take to the stage in the Cavea. I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I love the Auditorium and in particular sitting below Renzo Piano’s insect-like pods in the open-air arena during the summer - concerts usually start at 9pm when it’s still just light outside in Rome, and the mood of the concerts intensifies as night falls. Hardcore fans posting on online forums prior to the Mogwai gig had been bemoaning the seated venue, preferring standing space in front of the stage, yet for me their particular brand of atmospheric, hypnotic music suited the venue perfectly! As the first notes of Helicon 1 rang out a flock of dozens of seagulls flew above the stage and screeched through the opening bars, setting the mood somehow for something quite magical. As dusk turned into night bats were swooping overhead through Friend of the Night - spooky - and by the time they played the ethereal 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong, it was already dark and looking up Pegasus was clearly visible in the starry night sky.

This concert was one of discovery for me as I went out of pure curiosity knowing Mogwai really in name only, yet with the final blistering version of Mogwai Fear Satan ringing in my ears, I left the Auditorium a brand new Mogwai fan. Highly recommended!

Full setlist (thanks to Jacopo)

Helicon 1
I'm Jim Morrison I'm Dead
Christmas Steps
Scotland's Shame
Friend Of The Night
Auto Rock
I Love You, I'm Going to Blow up Your School
Killing All The Flies
Thank You Space Expert
2 Rights Make 1 Wrong
Hunted by a Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oggi sciopero - Italian blogger strike!

Today, July 14, 2009, Italian bloggers will muzzle themselves on the Web as well as in Piazza Navona in Rome, at 7pm where they will meet to protest against an Italian government bill (the Alfano decree) introducing a number of new rules which will limit the freedom of expression on the Internet in Italy.

For this reason all Italian blogs and websites are invited to participate in a day of silence, on the day in which newspapers and TV networks will also remain silent. It is a joint message to the political world: "We do not want to be gagged".

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kenneth Branagh awarded the 2009 Roma Fiction Fest Lifetime Achievement Award

The British actor and director Kenneth Branagh, star of stage and both big and small screens, was awarded the 2009 Roma Fiction Fest Lifetime Achievement Award yesterday evening in recognition of his long career in television drama.

Branagh, who was in Rome to collect the award in person at Cinema Adriano, was extremely generous with his time and read a long, prepared speech, before posing with the award and signing autographs. The audience was then shown an episode from the first series of the atmospheric Wallander - a BBC mini-series in 3 episodes - based on the best selling thrillers by Henning Mankell, in which Branagh plays the title role of Kurt Wallander, the Swedish detective.

House MD star Lisa Edelstein dazzles crowds at Roma Fiction Fest

Lisa Edelstein at Roma Fiction Fest
I confess that as soon as I heard that House MD star Lisa Edelstein would be appearing at the Roma Fiction Fest I knew that if I got to see only one celebrity during this edition, catching a glimpse of "Doctor Cuddy" was going to be top of my list!

After the Grey’s Anatomy debacle of earlier in the week, we were taking no chances and arrived at Cinema Adriano hours in advance armed with both accreditation badges and tickets. With the precision of a military exercise we mapped our strategy to find the best vantage point to see her arrive and watch the ritual of the photo call on the festival’s Orange Carpet, and then join the stampede to Screening Room 6, where she then made a brief appearance to a large audience of what can only be described as adoring fans, answering a few questions about her role in the enormously popular television medical drama. She looked stunning in an elegant evening trouser suit and heels, but exuded warmth and sincerity. Asked how she felt about playing a “normal” character who is a doctor rather than other characters she has played in the past, such as a prostitute and transsexual, she replied that
every human being is normal no matter if they’re a hooker, a transgender, or a lesbian, or an orthodox Jew
to spontaneous applause from the audience. What a star!

The audience was then treated to a special showing of the DVD extras which will appear in the Italian edition of Season 5 of Dr. House, as the show is known over here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pandemonium at Roma Fiction Fest for stars of Grey’s Anatomy!

Grey’s Anatomy stars Eric Dane (accompanied by his wife Rebecca Gayheart) and Justin Chambers were swamped by crowds of fans at Roma Fiction Fest yesterday evening when they made a special appearance at a showing of the first episode of season 5 of the hit medical drama.

Sadly, the organisers of the Roma Fiction Fest seriously underestimated the appeal of the show and we were informed by a member of staff that they had sent out a staggering 2,000 invitations for the showing, as well as giving away free tickets at the ticket office during the day and having promised fast track entry for any accredited badge holders (like myself) - for an auditorium that seats only 500 people. Needless to say, tempers were short and pandemonium broke out when badge holders were then REFUSED entry to the event until all ticket holders had taken their seats. As our US cousins would say - “Do the math!” - what were they thinking?!

In spite of the organizational shambles which left us high and dry, we decided to cut our losses and managed to make it downstairs in time to witness Eric Dane and Justin Chamber’s arrival at Cinema Adriano and the superstar welcome they were given, and also catch an enjoyable BBC sci-fi drama in competition - Survivors - starring Max Beesley whose unexpected introduction to the showing was a complete surprise as there was no mention of it in the festival programme.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Roma Fiction Fest launches with Buzz Aldrin!

Premiere of 'Moonshot' at Roma Fiction Fest with Saint Peter's
When Buzz Aldrin walked out on stage last night to the strains of Elton John’s Rocket Man - a corny but effective touch - he was given a hero’s welcome by the packed audience at the Auditorium Conciliazione. The Apollo 11 astronaut, who on 20 July, 1969 followed Neil Armstrong down the steps to become the second man to have walked on the moon and enter into history, was interviewed on stage as part of the opening evening of Roma Fiction Fest. He was the very special guest before the world premiere of British-made TV movie Moonshot directed by Richard Dale and starring James Marsters as Buzz and Daniele Lapaine (also present) as Neil Armstrong, a highly enjoyable drama exploring the background story of events leading up to the moon landing launch forty years ago. The film was applauded with enthusiasm as the credits rolled and there were spontaneous cheers when Armstrong uttered …one giant leap for mankind!

The Roma Fiction Fest - now in its third year - is an annual international festival dedicated to television drama and judging from the attendance at last night’s event, seems to be growing in popularity each year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Final week of Fra Angelico at the Capitoline Museums!

If you haven’t seen The Blessed Angelico: The Dawn of the Renaissance in Palazzo dei Caffarelli - part of the Musei Capitolini on Piazza del Campidoglio - there’s still time until 5 July to catch this wonderful show! Some years ago something rather curious happened to me whilst at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni during an exhibition entitled The Face of Christ which included Christ Crowned with Thorns by Fra Angelico from the Museo Civico in Livorno; in front of that particular work by the Renaissance Friar I experienced the closest thing to Stendhal syndrome I’ve ever felt in my life! I’m not, incidentally, in any way religious, but the works of this artist which are exclusively religious in subject matter, affect me like few others. The Livorno piece isn’t on show here - there’s a copy by a collaborator instead - but there are 49 other extraordinary works by this most sublime of painters including not only small panels, large altarpieces and canvases, but also examples of his work as an illuminator with several manuscripts on display.

In an exhibition in which one could easily spend hours staring at each and every work choosing a few favourites is tricky but certainly the Barcelona panel Virgin and Child, with Five Angels, ca. 1426-27 better known as the Madonna of Humility and the dazzling Paradise ca. 1434-35 from the Uffizi, with its exquisite gold decorative background are breathtaking, as is the large Annunciation from San Giovanni Valdarno (see illustration above). The Blessed and the Damned, painted on two small side panels of what was once a triptych (from a collection in Houston, USA) and a tiny fragment of a panel depicting Saint John the Baptist from Leipzig (possibly originally part of the altarpiece from St. Mark's) also kept me transfixed.

Fra Angelico’s tomb in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
The exhibition closes what has been an extended celebration of the 550th anniversary of the painter’s death in Rome in 1455. The Dominican Friar was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 3, 1982 and in 1984 was made patron of Catholic artists.

After the exhibition it somehow felt appropriate to take a wander across Rome to Fra Angelico’s tomb in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pane, Amore e… Fotografia! Gina Lollobrigida, Photographer at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Gina Lollobrigida at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome
Whilst Gina Lollobrigida is best known the world over as an actress and indeed is one of Italy’s most famous stars of the silver screen having made a string of Hollywood movies starring opposite some of the biggest leading men of the 1950s and 1960s (such as Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner to name but a few), she has also been a prolific photographer for the last fifty years.

At almost eighty-two, Gina Lollobrigida is still as glamorous as only a true diva from the Golden Age of Hollywood can be, and her appearance at the inauguration of a major retrospective of 250 of her photographs last night at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni was attended by the inevitable court of Italian TV media darlings. It was rather wonderful, therefore, to see Ms Lollobrigida’s willingness to answer questions about the photographs and the photographers which have influenced her - Robert Capa, Franco Fontana and fellow actor Yul Brynner, were just some of the names she mentioned - before being swept away in a cloud of VIPs.

This exhibition will take you on a dense photographic journey across the globe - Russia, India, Japan, Africa, and of course Italy - all seen through the keen eyes of a true photojournalist. She never flinches from showing the devastating effects of poverty - even, as she explained, if she suffered enormously when taking some images such as those of lepers in India - whilst at the same time cutting through the public image and exposing the humanity of some of the most famous figures of the last few decades. I particularly liked the portraits of Fidel Castro, a stunning portrait of Liv Ullman and a beautiful study of Neapolitan dramatist and actor Eduardo De Filippo.

Gina Lollobrigida, Photographer
curated by Philippe Daverio
26 June - 13 September 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deredia - La Genesi e il Simbolo at the Roman Forum

Jiménez Deredia and his sculpture Genesi Ricordo Profondo at the Roman Forum
Visitors to the Roman Forum this summer are in for an extra surprise - for the first time ever Il Foro Romano is hosting a contemporary art exhibition. The eight monumental sculptures in white Carrara marble by the Italian-based Costa Rican artist Jiménez Deredia are found along the Via Sacra between the Arch of Titus and the Senate and work so extraordinarily well in this context one hopes that this might become a regular exhibition space for site specific work by modern artists.

The charismatic sculptor was in Rome yesterday for the inauguration of both this exhibition and a parallel major show at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni dedicated to Deredia's ongoing sculptural project of creating nine groups of sculpture in nine countries on the American continent, stretching from Canada all the way to Tierra del Fuego, taking in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru and Chile on route - La Ruta de la Paz.

Other works by the artist are dotted about the city - Piazza Barberini, Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, the area just in front of the Colosseum and at the Auditorium Parco delle Musica – I'll be tracking them down over the next few weeks and will post photographs here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Roma Pride Parade 2009

Whilst Barack Obama recently declared June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month with the words:

I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists
Italy remains in the grip of increasing homophobia - once again this year both the Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno and Italy's Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna refused to endorse the annual Gay Pride march (although Ms Carfagna seemed perfectly happy to meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi earlier in the week).

Given that Roma Pride 2009 was poorly publicized and quite literally, mentioned only in passing in local news reports, the event was a remarkable success with 250,000 people marching from Piazza della Repubblica to Piazza Navona.

Here are a few highlights!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Lang Lang Fest hosted by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium Parco della Musica

Autographed 'Lang Lang Fest' programme
After thrilling the Santa Cecilia audience in a wonderful solo performance in January last year the virtuoso pianist and genuine classical music superstar Lang Lang returned to the Auditorium Parco della Musica for a concert marathon of four shows on consecutive evenings from 2 to 5 June – the Lang Lang Fest. At twenty-six Lang Lang has already clocked up too many accolades to mention in this review and was listed as one of Time magazine's most influential people in The 2009 TIME 100 earlier this year.

The fact that Lang Lang started playing the piano at age three after seeing Tom play the Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 by Liszt in a Tom and Jerry cartoon is now legendary, yet it's worth remembering because one of Lang Lang's great achievements is his ability to break down the walls of snobbery and elitism that pervade the classical music world and also his determined encouragement of very young musicians through his own foundation.

A charismatic showman during performances - he almost seems to talk to his Steinway whilst playing - he is not without his detractors, although personally I'm puzzled as to how anybody could hear him perform and not be moved by the sensitivity of his playing which goes so much deeper than the mere bravura of which he is sometimes accused. As Herbie Hancock recently said of him - his playing is [...] so deeply human.

I was lucky enough to see him on two of the evenings in Rome this week. During the solo piano recital on Wednesday he performed a stunning first set of Schubert, then opened the second half of the performance with a simply jaw-dropping Bartok (which, unusually for Lang Lang, he played with the score in front of him) and a wonderful selection of Debussy Preludes closing with one of Chopin's most famous pieces, the Heroic. The audience response was rapturous and he returned on stage for several curtain calls - a spontaneous cheer erupted as he took to the piano again for a final encore in which he played a traditional Chinese folksong from the Yellow River Piano Concerto (found on his Dragon Songs CD).

On Friday evening, he closed the festival with Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 in an impeccable performance with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, conducted by the esteemed Christoph Eschenbach (with whom he recorded a recent CD of Beethoven piano concertos), returning to the stage for an exquisite encore of more Chopin - Etude No. 3, Op. 10 in E major.

He may polarise opinion with the general public and critics on differing sides but the long line of fans of all ages who queued for a signed CD and the chance to meet Lang Lang in the book shop at the Auditorium on Friday evening seemed in no doubt as to Lang Lang's exceptional talent. See this man perform if you get the opportunity!

Full setlists:

3 June, 2009

  • Schubert - Sonata D. 959
  • Bartók - Sonata BB 88 Sz. 80
  • Debussy - A selection of Preludes from Book I and II
  • Book I
  • La fille aux cheveux de lin
  • Les collines d'Anacapri
  • La cathedrale engloutie
  • Minstrels
  • Book II
  • La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune
  • Bruyères
  • Feux d'artifice
  • Chopin - Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, the "Heroic
  • Encore - Traditional Chinese folksong
5 June 2009
  • Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Encore - Chopin Etude No. 3, Op. 10 in E major
  • (also in programme Tchaikovsky Symphony n. 4 directed by Christoph Eschenbach)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Giotto and the 14th Century: The Most Sovereign Master of Painting at the Complesso del Vittoriano

GiottoThe Complesso del Vittoriano is in many respects an awkward exhibition space and must prove a headache for its organisers who have to deal with what is essentially a long narrow corridor - which often gets blocked with visitors who find themselves squashed in a bottleneck on busy days or peak visiting hours - and then opens out into one large room. Whilst in recent shows that large room has been exploited successfully to its full potential with the creation of a mezzanine floor, unfortunately I always seem to find myself rushing through the first part of any exhibition at the Vittoriano to escape the sheer discomfort of being jostled along that initial corridor! For the Giotto exhibition, however, I chose the hour of my visit carefully, so I could therefore comfortably linger a little longer in the early rooms of the show. And I was very glad that I did for they form what is essentially an exhibition within the exhibition – a selection of stunning medieval illuminated manuscripts directly influenced by Giottesque painting. There is also a fun touch-screen virtual visit to the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua with a projected image simulating a couple of the frescoes – amazingly the galley was empty enough for me to get to play with this gadget!

As the title suggests, the exhibition is not only dedicated to Giotto, but rather explorers his cultural impact on the times in which he lived, so in addition to the 20 pieces by Giotto himself this exhaustive show also includes works by the painters Cimabue and Simone Martini, as well as that of illuminators, goldsmiths and also sculptors, with 150 works in total on display. © Photo by SailkoObviously, Giotto is the star of the show with works borrowed not only from Italian galleries like the Uffizi such as the indisputably magnificent Badia Polyptych (Madonna and Child with St. Nicholas, St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter and St. Benedict) but also panels on loan from major museums around the world – Christ between St John the Evangelist, the Madonna, John the Baptist and St Francis, (1310-1315), for example, from the the North Carolina Museum of Art, is displayed so that visitors can admire both front and back of this particularly beautiful polyptych. Of the other pieces on display it was love at first sight for me with Giovanni di Balduccio's Saint Peter Martyr, a 60 cm statue from 1334 which looked incredibly art deco – I spent simply ages gazing at it!

Before you visit the exhibition proper the lower floor of the Vittoriano has an extensive educational section exploring Giotto's travels throughout different regions in Italy. Whilst this is all very interesting, there is, if anything, too much material to read - kilometres of poorly spaced text in a hard to read font. Most surprisingly, given that Giotto is one of the most famous artists in history, known the world over, and that this is one of the big shows of the season certain to attract a huge number of international visitors, the information available is only in English. If you don't read Italian you'll have to make-do with a pamphlet – help yourself at the ticket desk when you buy the ticket or hire an audio-guide.

Giotto e il Trecento. Il più sovrano Maestro stato in dipintura continues at the Complesso del Vittoriano until 29 June, 2009. A major show - definitely one to see!

Photo - Giovanni di Balduccio © Sailko CC

Friday, May 15, 2009

Anselm Kiefer: Hortus Philosophorum at the Gagosian Gallery

I don't usually focus on private art galleries here but there's a small yet exquisite Anselm Kiefer exhibition running right now at the Gagosian Gallery on Via Francesco Crispi which is well worth going out of your way to visit. Whilst the Gagosian may present a challenge to some artists given that its principal exhibition space is an oval room, Hortus Philosophorum (a title charcoaled directly on the wall by the artist) consists of a group of eight sculptures which work perfectly in the main gallery.

Each sculpture in the series is a variation on the core form of a massive, irregular stack of books made from lead and the visitor is allowed to circle around them exploring the unique attributes of the individual works which reference poetry, mythology, and diverse strands of cultural history. I particularly liked Sternenfall (Falling Stars) in which the stack of books is surrounded by glass shards inscribed with numbers; although it isn't immediately obvious what these numbers mean – they could even be phone numbers – they actually correspond to stars in the charted galaxy. Verunglückte Hoffnung (The Wreck of the Hope) inspired by Caspar David Friedrich's arctic landscape is also very beautiful with a shattered terracotta urn and a rusted “boat” reminiscent of the grounded Hope being the evocative additions to the lead tomes.

The show is completed by a smaller room featuring large vertical collages based on photographs of Kiefer's 2005 work The Seven Heavenly Palaces, a series of monumental towers cast from concrete and lead which explored the seven stages of spirituality. The collages, instead, explore the theme of Ararat, the mountain on which Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood.

Highly recommended!

Anselm Kiefer: Hortus Philosophorum continues at the Gagosian Gallery at Via Francesco Crispi, 16 until 23 May, 2009

Photo © Gagosian Gallery

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Futurism: Avant-garde-Avant-gardes at the Scuderie del Quirinale

In recent years Rome has played host to several exhibitions celebrating what is arguably Italy's most important contribution to twentieth century art – Futurism – most notably with the exhaustive Italian Futurists show in 2001 at the Palazzo delle Espozioni and once again there in last year's The Myth of Speed which saw the Futurist aesthetic as a recurrent theme throughout. I'll admit, therefore, that I felt a little jaded towards Futurism before going to this new exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale and wondered whether I'd learn anything new or find anything to surprise me.

As it turns out, Futurism: Avant-garde-Avant-gardes, curated in collaboration with the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London and organised to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the publication of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto in 1909, does, in fact, offer something which has so far been lacking in Italy – for the first time the Italian Futurist movement is shown in a wider European context. Whilst the exhibition as a whole is rather scholastic in its approach, this presentation of Futurism alongside Cubism and other avant-garde movements of the early 1900s such as Russian Cubo-Futurism, English Vorticism, French Orphism and even American Synchromism, reaffirms the important position of the Italian movement whilst properly situating it alongside parallel creative forces.

There are several major works on loan from New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) such as Umberto Boccioni's The Laugh and his three States of Mind paintings - The Farewells, Those Who Go and Those Who Stay - as well as Carlo Carrà's large canvas The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli, which all make the show well worth a visit. I was personally delighted to find Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 also on display and even more thrilled by the section on Russian Futurism! I've always loved the Natalia Goncharova painting The Cyclist, ever since I read Camilla Gray's The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922 as a student, so I was really pleased to see it here in Rome alongside a couple of wonderful works by Kazimir Malevich - Portrait Of The Artist Ivan Kliun and The Aviator.

Futurismo. Avanguardia-Avanguardie at the Scuderie del Quirinale is curated by Didier Ottinger and continues until 24 May 2009.

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