Sunday, February 15, 2009

Darwin exhibition marred by use of live animals at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Darwin 1809 – 2009
In line with major museums all over the world the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome is celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of English naturalist Charles Darwin with a fascinating exhibition Darwin 1809 – 2009, curated by Niles Eldredge, Ian Tattersall and Telmo Pievani. Occupying the entire upper floor of the museum this is an exhaustive show looking at Darwin's entire life: the young collector of beetles; his life-changing five year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle during which he collected numerous specimens and filled notebooks with his observations which would later form the very beginnings of his theory of evolution by natural selection; his marriage and London years; his domestic life and decades of study at Down House in the English countryside through to the eventual publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and The Descent of Man. There are also rooms dedicated to human evolution and evolution today which uses new tools and technologies, such as DNA analyses, to support Darwin's theories.

There's lots to read in this exhibition (you'll need several hours to do the show proper justice) but the bite size nuggets of information accompanying each exhibit – letters, notebooks, fossils, skeletons and mounted animal specimens - are concise and clearly written leaving the visitor with a satisfyingly thorough overview of Darwin's life and achievements.

However, as the Palazzo delle Esposizioni website and leaflets proudly proclaim
Live animals play a starring role here: green iguanas, armadillo and turtles.
It's a well documented fact that Darwin abhorred animal cruelty and certainly, the use of live exhibits in this show – all on loan from the Bioparco di Roma - seems grossly unnecessary. When I visited the show on Saturday 14th February the galleries were packed with families and student groups but the sight of the armadillo in a glass enclosure in the middle of an art gallery seemed, if anything, to perplex and concern visitors. In fact, the Italian Anti-Vivisection League (LAV) had made moves to block these exhibits prior to the opening and issued a legal warning against the mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno amongst others, expressing concern at the potential stress that they will likely endure in the unusual settings of the Palazzo.

Here's hoping that this excellent exhibition centre takes heed and removes the live animals from what is otherwise a fascinating tribute to an extraordinary mind.

Join the Facebook pressure group - Togli gli animali vivi dalla mostra Darwin a Roma - urging the museum to remove the live animals.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Final days of From Rembrandt to Vermeer at the Museo del Corso

If you haven't seen From Rembrandt to Vermeer - Civil Values in 17th Century Flemish and Dutch Painting, organised by Fondazione Roma and on show at the Museo del Corso in Rome yet, this weekend is your last chance with the exhibition closing on Sunday 15th February. When I visited the museum earlier this week the queues were already incredibly long for a midweek afternoon, so get there early and don't be put off if you DO have to stand in line...this exhibition, which explores the exceptional artistic output of the Golden Age of Dutch art, is well worth the wait!

The focal points of the show are the one (and indeed only) Vermeer on display - Girl with a Pearl Necklace - which is undeniably beautiful and worth the price of the ticket alone, and a small yet fascinating Rembrandt - The Money Changer. There are numerous other gems such as the marvellous The Mother and Girl Weighing Pearls by another maestro of Dutch interiors, Pieter de Hooch. Look out for Rubens' immensely haunting Landscape With a Hanged Man, a tiny sketched landscape painting tucked in a corner in the final room, also The Knife Grinder's Family and Paternal Admonition by Gerard ter Borch, who is now considered one of the greatest Dutch genre and portrait painters of the period.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Twestival in Rome!

On 12 February 2009 Rome will be one of the 175+ cities around the world hosting a Twestival - a gathering of Twitter users - one of the fastest growing online communities in the world - for an evening of fun and to raise money and awareness for charity: water.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jean-Michel Basquiat at Palazzo Ruspoli

Jean-Michel Basquiat at Palazzo Ruspoli with pavement artist
Whilst some exhibitions are exhaustive and consequently, sometimes exhausting as a result, there's also something to be said for smaller shows with a handful of representative and carefully selected pieces by an artist that whet your appetite and leave the viewer wanting more. For the first time in a long time on Saturday I left an exhibition not just with an overall impression of an artist's work but with an almost perfect memory of each and every painting I'd seen, together with a renewed interest and admiration for the artist.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: To Repel Ghosts, curated by Olivier Berggruen and on display in the rooms of the Memmo Foundation in Palazzo Ruspoli on Via del Corso in Rome, opened way back at the beginning of October 2008 and closed on Sunday, so yet again I'm guilty of dashing last minute to see a show before it closes, but thankfully most people on Via del Corso over lunchtime on Saturday were there to shop and the gallery was empty enough to enjoy the forty or so works without crowds.

Opening with a room dedicated to a series of black and white photographic portraits of the undeniably charismatic Basquiat taken by Michael Halsband (including the famous double portrait with Andy Warhol which depicts them as boxing sparring partners), the exhibition then moved more or less chronologically through Basquiat's all too brief artistic life - his obsession with mortality and lifelong referencing of Gray's Anatomy through skeletal figures and mask-like faces, the graffiti-style paintings and canvases dense with scrawled words, as well as collage and multi-paneled works, or even paintings on found doors or wooden panels.

Basquiat's controversial, yet all-important collaborations with Warhol were also represented by the inclusion of General Electric White with Warhol's trademark silkscreen addition of General Electric's logo to Basquiat's canvas. There was also another important collaboration with Italian artist Francesco Clemente - Numero cinque.

The final room included the haunting Self-Portrait (Plaid) from 1983 which has been plastered all over Palazzo Ruspoli for the last few months – the face to face meeting with the real painting was worth the price of the ticket alone. Wonderful!

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