Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rediscovering Dada and Surrealism at the Complesso del Vittoriano

Whilst the Dada and Surrealism show currently running at the Complesso del Vittoriano claims to be the most important overview of the two revolutionary art movements ever shown in Italy, the inclusion of over 500 works covering oil paintings, sculptures and collages unfortunately proves to be more exhausting than exhaustive. The exhibition space at the Complesso del Vittoriano, with its funnel like corridor at the beginning, is difficult to manage at the best of times, but this has to be one of the most maddening shows I've seen for quite a while! I suspect the higgledy-piggledy hanging of dozens of works crammed together is a deliberate attempt to emulate the art salons of the last century, but it makes for a frustrating visit. The show clearly aims to include as many minor artists as possible, but there are simply too many also-rans – at least a third of what's there could easily have been excluded to allow some of the more important work space to breathe and also give people the chance to properly rediscover a handful of lesser known, yet important, artists.

For reasons that are hard to understand, for example, the gallery dedicates a large screen and several rows of seating at the start of the exhibition for a brief introduction by the curator Arthur Schwarz, whereas the excellent selection of Dada and Surrealist films such as René Clair and Francis Picabia’s Entr’acte (1924) are relegated to small screens dotted throughout the exhibition - strategically positioned, it would seem, to block the passage of other visitors who don't wish to stand and watch the movies as they play on a loop. Schwartz was personally friends with many of the Surrealists and has written extensively about them, amassing  a huge collection of 700 pieces of Dada and Surrealist art over the years, which he then gave to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. An expert in his field, one gets the impression that he was given carte blanche with this show and that nobody else at the Vittoriano dared suggest trimming things down a little!

Be that as it may, there are still some wonderful items in the exhibition, hidden gems as it were, that thankfully make the visit well worthwhile. The small selection of collages by Kurt Schwitters is exquisite, in spite of minor irritations - the tiny Mz 293 is hung too high to see it properly, and Mz 253 is hung too low. I would personally have loved to have seen far more work by his fellow German Dada artist and pioneer of photo-montage Hannah Höch, although the inclusion of the haunting water colour Die Strassenjamer is an unexpected gift. British Surrealist Edith Rimmington makes a surprising appearance with a gorgeous London Transport poster for the London Aquarium – surprising because this particular work is barely Surrealist – whilst Magritte's masterpieces The Red Model (1934) and the later Castle in the Pyrenees (1959) rise above the masses as pure poetry.  

Rediscovering Dada and Surrealism continues at the Complesso del Vittoriano until 7th February, 2010. If you're a die hard fan of Dada or Surrealism you'd better hurry – it's finishing soon!

The Red Model by René Magritte © Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands – Web resolution, fair use.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Arvo Pärt - Summa | The Auditorium, Rome | 23 January, 2010

A week long series of events dedicated to the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt - Diario dell'anima – opened yesterday at the Auditorium Parco della Musica with a concert performed by the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble in the presence of the maestro himself and conducted by his charismatic fellow Estonian Tonu Kaljuste. The setting of Sala Petrassi, the smaller of the three main concert halls, lent the evening an intimacy which was perfect for Part's minimalist and meditative music, with a programme of compositions that served as a marvellous Arvo Pärt primer, as well as an introduction to the festival itself.

The concert opened with the first of several special variations of early works, the hypnotic string quartet version of Summa; the haunting version of Fratres scored for four percussionists made its Italian debut, whilst the version of Spiegel im Spiegel, one of Part's most borrowed compositions for film and television, was performed for the first time ever with a score for bass flute and piano, written specifically for PMCE lead flautist Manuel Zurria. There were works for voice as well – again an entirely new version of Zwei Wiegenlieder – and L’Abbé Agathon, the most recent of the compositions performed, sung by soprano Arianna Savall, the crystalline purity of whose voice enthralled me.

The evening closed to rapturous applause with the composer stepping nimbly up onto the stage to join the performers for several curtain calls. Seeming in no hurry to leave the hall he spent some time shaking the hands of well wishers and even signed some autographs for admirers. A wonderful evening!

Click here for further details of forthcoming events in Diario dell'anima. Omaggio a Arvo Pärt.


  • Summa (string quartet version)
  • L’Abbé Agathon
  • Spiegel im Spiegel (new version)
  • Scala Cromatica
  • Mozart Adagio
  • Es sang vor langen Jahren
  • Fratres (Schlagzeuger) (percussion version)
  • Zwei Wiegenlieder (new version)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Niki de Saint Phalle at the Museo della Fondazione Roma – Final Days!

After one of the best and also enormously popular art exhibitions of 2009 in Rome – Hiroshige: Master of Nature - the Museo della Fondazione Roma (Museo del Corso) continues to demonstrate that it is worthy of a place alongside the major galleries in the city with yet another marvellous show, this time presenting over 100 works by French-born sculptor, painter and performance artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002). As with the Hiroshige exhibition, this show guides the visitor through a thematic rather than strictly chronological selection of the artist's work via four main areas, or Memory RoomsOrigins, Nana Power, Spiritual Path and The Tarot Garden.

Admittedly, I came to this exhibition thinking that I didn't know her work at all, only to be reminded once there that she was (of course!) one of the creators of the Stravinsky Fountain, next to the Centre Pompidou, in Paris, which I'd seen and enjoyed so many times in the past. She collaborated on this public fountain with her long term partner in life and art, Jean Tinguely, whose impact on her work is charted in the section Spiritual Path and in works such as the dazzling yet deeply poignant silkscreen, Jean in My Heart, created in 1992, a year after Jean's death. This section, explored her inner world and included a large number of the California Diary silkscreen prints created during the 1990s. Charting her daily thoughts in a graphical jumble of words and images these pieces are a fascinating insight into what made Niki de Saint Phalle tick and are both moving and humorous, often within a single piece. When in Christmas, for example, which deals with the joys of laughter and love of life, she includes a reference to a sudden illness, we are saddened too by this intimate and shocking revelation. I spent ages pouring over them, following the circuitous route of her sentences written in her distinctive swirling font, determined to savour every word!

If the Shooting Paintings of the 1960s brought her notoriety - she quite literally shot at paintings with a rifle, thus opening bags of pigments which would then run down the canvas – for the most part her work is joyous and life affirming. She wore her heart (and influences) on her sleeve and whilst her own references to Gaudí and Miro are immediately apparent, the influence of her work on others wasn't mentioned – I saw shades of early Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring and most strikingly, the Beatles' animated movie Yellow Submarine.

The final spaces in the gallery were dedicated to the works for which she is arguably most famous - the brightly painted and curvaceous celebrations of the complexities of womanhood, the giant Nanas, and the sculptures built for the Giardino dei Tarocchi in Garavicchio, Tuscany (complete with sound effects of the wind blowing through trees and real autumn leaves scattered around the exhibits). Tragically, most of these figures were created in polyester resin, a substance known to give off highly toxic gases – although aware of the dangers, Saint Phalle continued working with this material until she eventually succumbed to emphysema in 2002, cutting short the life of this unique artist. Large scale stills from her art films covered entire panels throughout the show and a short sequence of film clips running on a loop completed this fine introduction to a fascinating artist and an extraordinary body of work.

This is a wonderful show, closing soon – catch it if you can!

Niki de Saint Phalle at the Museo della Fondazione Roma is curated by Stefano Cecchetto and continues until 17th January 2010.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New Flood Warnings for the River Tiber in Rome!

Just over a year since the last dramatic flooding of the Tiber, water levels have once again risen alarmingly after days of incessant rain and Rome is at risk of flooding. I took this photograph of Castel Sant'Angelo last night from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II where the Tevere had risen above the 11 metre mark. With weather forecasts giving more rain over the weekend the river is expected to reach 13 metres by Sunday.

Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber after heavy rains

Photograph © Deborah Swain - All rights reserved

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...