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

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