I AM not a huge fan of MAXXI in Rome. Aside from being a means through which the Northern parts of the city can be better utilized to capitalize on the Art Academy quarter of the city, and playing its part in re-asserting the presence of contemporary art in a classical city like Rome, MAXXI leaves me cold.
When the Zaha Hadid designed building finally opened in 2010, it already felt stale to me. No coincidence that years of delays and other issues saw to the project taking almost ten years to be realised, by which stage the revolutionary building design seemed to scream; you've seen me before in a million other capital cities.
The art at MAXXI feels more modern than contemporary, and this is an important thing to understand in Italy, because modern art in Italy envelopes the last few hundred years, whereas contemporary art is that which is produced in the now.
Invariably, when you visit MAXXI, you get a mixed idea of what modernity means. You're as likely to encounter artwork from the seminal 1960s and 1970s, when Italian artists were at the forefront of the contemporary and avantguard scenes, as artwork from more recent years, in which the collections place emphasis on international artists, partly because Italian artists haven't connected with their public in recent years to the same scale as international artists, because they haven't been able to maintain the urgency, that cutting edge ability that seemed to come so naturally in the mid twentieth century. This is a direct result of the destruction of arts education and training in this country, a brain drain which has weakened innovation in the arts here in the same way that it has weakened Italy in technology, science and pretty much any other smart industry.
MAXXI was envisaged as being the centre of Italy's contemporary arts scene, and as such, was part of a huge push to rebrand Rome as a pivotal European centre for contemporary art, a huge undertaking, given the identity clash between old and new that is constantly played out in Rome.
But MAXXI, in just its second year, is already facing other big challenges. Recently spotlighted in the news due to funding issues, the museum finds itself in the unenviable position of being a big new player that already has an uncertain future. Coupled with the appointment of an administrator, talk currently suggests that the government, in its current austerity drive, has drawn the line and plans to cut funding, emphasizing the point that its initial funding was provided under the condition that MAXXI sought out private partners to sustain it on an ongoing basis.
This brief Italian article suggests that MAXXI has so far failed to do so, and that in not doing so, risks not being able to pay staff wages beyond another few months, let alone continue to stage exhibitions and events that it so desperately needs to in its attempt to define its place in the contemporary European scene.
MAXXI of course is not alone in this dire situation. In recent weeks, by museology standards, events have turned almost apocalyptic.
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I PERSONALLY have some very good memories from Checkpoint Charlie. I remember when I first went to Berlin in the summer of 1996 and first fell in love with that city, Checkpoint Charlie had some kind of effect on me.
Not in the same way or with the same gravity that seeing the wall or Alexanderplatz did, nor was it even comparable with being reuinted with my friends who lived there who I hadn't seen for over a year.
CC offered something intangible. Back in 1996 the streets around the area were already aligned with makeshift carpets, covered with pins and badges bearing old Communist designs, but the surrounding streets were oddly deserted in contrast.
The museum which was already in place there felt like a sobre reminder about how the world got things so wrong back in the thirties and forties, and although it had the authenticity of the Hard Rock Cafe, it had a spirit and purpose which couldn't be faulted, and a gift shop that made perfectly light of war paraphenalia and imagery.
Berlin is no longer just the whacky, cool city that inspired me back in the 1990s, a burgeoning place of beer gardens and awkward conversations and a Northern German mentality. It has become one of the premier cities of Europe again, where aside from the architecture, it gets harder and harder each day to distinguish the differences between Old East and Old West. The film Goodbye Lenin! is as good a summation of the new versus old mentality if you want to look into that further, but sometimes history and culture are intangible, especially when the representat structures have been razed or destroyed. Even when things are based on replicas or rebuilds, they can still be authentic homages to or reminders to another time, another event, another history, assuming that the surrounding area adds that otherwise missing authenticity.
So it was with complete dismay that I read this article about even more changes that seemed to have been made to the area around CC.
Where is it that we, as people, as cities, as governments draw the line between rampant commercialism and maintaining at least a semblance of dignity?
SOMEONE must have forgotten to send me the memo. Who exactly could have been responsible I have no idea, but get this... The Go-Go's at some point crossed the threshold from one time wonders to influential rock band.
There's a lot of goodwill directed at them, particularly because they were the first all female rock band to score a pretty much self penned No.1 album and they had a few cruisey hits, in particular Our Lips Are Sealed.
They don't earn the musical respect that Joan Jett, Chrissie Hyde or even The Bangles still do, but that's because their recognition is based on what their success symbolised rather than what they actually produced.
I'm not here to fight the fight for The Go-Go's, as much as I dig their achievements. When they went their separate ways, famously acrimoniously, Jane Wielden made the odd grab for attention, but there was only enough space in the universe for Belinda, and even then not for long.
She was the epitome of the new California girl. Remember in the 60s and 70s how California was portrayed as the land of the free love, of stopping the bomb and shaking up the changes inthe world? In the 80s the depth we associated with California evaporated. It became the kind of sun drenched landscape where deep thought drifted out over the Pacific, and to some extent still remains that way in the public consciousness. Yes, its home to the Silicon Valley, but its still a land of California Girls (and boys).
And so, after the Go Go's made that transition away from Punk Lite to pop, Belinda took the ball and ran with it. She had a couple of lightweight lovelies in the mid 80s; Heaven Is A Place on Earth and Mad About You among them, but when she came back onto the scene in 1989 with Runaway Horses she momentarily found the right mix between guitars, radio inspired rock and mainstream pop and made it her own...and ours.
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IF YOU'RE in Rome between April 14 and April 21, you are in luck.
Rome's state museums and historical sites are opening their doors to the public with free entry during Culture Week. With the exception of some major sites such as the Colosseum and special exhibits, a lot of Rome's collections are pretty much free for the taking.
For those who have visited Rome before, this is a good opportunity to explore some of the more left field spaces that the city operates in addition to the bigger national museum centers whose collections are worth at least one visit to. Yes, the focus is often on classical art, but not always. For a different way to see something classical, two of my recommendations would be the Museo Andersen and Centrale Montemartini. Located outside of the historical center, these sites are invitations to explore a Rome that few visitors venture out to, and that often hide the more modern side of its identity. Traveling smarter, doing a bit of research, and picking up a bit of free press can go a long way in helping you get a better feel of a place.
There has been talk that Woody Allen's latest film To Rome With Love has caused a spike in visits to the city. I am not so sure of that, particularly because the film has not yet even been released. It could well happen later in the year when it gets its cinematic release in the States and other territories, but whether or not it will simply feed the obsession with the historical center or not remains to be seen.
Rome already commands about 10 million visitors per year, and for a city of its size, sits comfortably near, if behind its bigger neighbors London and Paris. Although it has less than half the population of its northern neighbors, it has some of the best flight connections in Europe, a heavily developed tourism industry and show stopping heritage that screams "Look at me! Look at me!" I can't think of any other European city, perhaps with the exception of Istanbul, that has such a multi-layered history that is readily accessible to visitors.
ROME is considered part of the cluster 6 cities of Europe, along with Berlin, Paris and London (Madrid and Istanbul are also in this group) in its status as a metropolis with heritage, arts and cultural industries. Because it is a cultural hub, it does pretty well at a local level in sustaining a growing amount of events, even if it is still paradoxically a city that is still finding its modern feet.
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SOMETIMES it's not about fighting the fight.
Sometimes you just need to learn how to make your peace.
Like most everyone else I suffer from repeated recurring song affliction. You know, when you wake up in the morning and you have a song already firmly lodged in your head?
Unfortunately for me, of late, that song has been World Party's Ship of Fools.
Let me say that I HATED that song when I was a kid. I think it was due to the video, which was freaking ugly. And what was with the polarisation effect? Cheap and nasty; polarising audiences by using that kind of visual technique is not a good idea. It was like those bad home made VHS video camera special effects. You know, like the fade out and fade in. Oooh. Nasty.
I know that as a 12 year old when that song came out in Australia, my tastes were not refined enough to appreciate the song, even if I already knew that the sentiment was right. Basically even back then I knew that the world was full of idiots.
But now, I am making my peace with the song. The lyrics are pretty timeless even if the accompanying music seems like something that would have been best left on the DVD bonus features of The Commitments, with which I refuse to wave the white flag.
The idea of being stranded on a ship of fools is not a unique idea, but nor is it one that is often explicitly stated. We read about it all the time; we read about the lowest common denominator, of spectacular lapses of judgement and rampant stupidity. Hell, we come across it every day of our lives.
The song, the video, even Karl Willinger's styling all deals with ugly, purposely or not. But that is the central idea of the song right? That humans are flawed because of their ugly and stupid nature. And that there is always somebody who feels that little bit more superior.
That a song like this could share house in the top ten at a time when Stock Aitken & Waterman were golden, Whitney Houston had crimped extensions and Bon Jovi were single handedly fighting the fight for leather vests and hairy chests, I simply have to lay down my arms.
World Party. I am making my peace with your ship of fools.
I COULDN'T get my financial act together this Easter to escape the throngs who are descending on Rome for the Holy Week. This is my third consecutive Easter in Europe, but the first that I find myself in Rome, as much as I had wanted to escape. Perhaps I will, even if just for a day or so, but at the end of the day it doesn't really bother me.
Rome is big enough to be able to avoid a lot of the crowds who come in to soak up the atmosphere and to feel physically closer to God. Last week I went to a village mass service in the far south of Lazio. I tagged along with some devout relatives and although it wouldn't have been my way of choosing to spend a Sunday morning, I didn't find it offensive. I love to observe people and although the service was all fine and well, it was more interesting for me to watch the latest generation of teenagers flirting in the gallery where I was sat. When they eventually bored me I started to focus on the architecture of the church, which felt like a modernized minimalist sixties building, just done on the cheap.
The other day I was thinking about how this city in particular has come to be associated with Christianity, and how ostensibly, it's an association that began as in import of a foreign culture or tradition. Of course, Catholicism developed into something completely of its own here, but I couldn't help but think about the way in this country in particular, people picked up the ball and ran with the idea, creating a huge visual and structural heritage and iconography along the way.
It would be like South Africa deciding wholesale that it was going to be Buddhist and then over the course of a couple of millenia reshaping the land so that it was completely dotted with temples, Buddhist icons on street corners, mini shrines built into the facades of apartment buildings. It's fascinating really.
A cursory check will tell you that there are almost 1000 churches in Rome.
This is an interesting figure, because it is well documented that during the Roman era the city's population peaked at over a million, making it at one stage the world's biggest city, but with the fall of the Roman empire it contracted to less than 50,000 right through until the mid 1900s when Rome's population first returned to seven figure numbers. Christianity didn't become the official religion in ancient Rome until the time of Constantine, which was in the later part of the Roman era, long after the Tetrarchy had been established, splitting Rome's power base. The majority of Rome's churches date long after the Roman era, and arose with the shift of Rome's history towards the papal state. If you take a walk around the city centre, you will find church after church, often one annexed to the other, and it would take some imagination to think of how these would all be filled with parishioners and not with bureaucrats.
But the pilgrims still come, and this city has a fantastic legacy of Christian inspired cites that run alongside its Roman and Etruscan heritage. The point for me this weekend will be to find a way to avoid too many of those 1000 churches and the thousands of pilgrims who, if not here to fill the temples are here to fill the adjacent piazzas.
I'M USUALLY quite forgiving of people who are patriotic or nationalistic.
It amuses me, but I know that I am probably just as guilty, especially in those more trying moments of life in a foreign country. We take comfort in thinking that we are part of a greater group of achievers and achievements.
There is of course an ugly side to patriotism. Its the blind rabbidism that is based on half truths, assumptions and plain rubbish and I unfortunately encounter it here on a regular basis.
An example here in Italy is of how Italians perceive their country. True, recent decades haven't been very kind to Italy. They have been caught up in a vicious cycle of politics, stagnation and economic woes and now, with a technocratic government in place are paying the price by means of an endless stream of new taxes and an annhilation of worker's rights in an attempt to modernise the economy.
So, when Italians tell me that Italy is home to more than 70% (90% on occassion) of the world's patromonio, that is, cultural heritage, I bite my tongue and let them continue believing it. I mean, everybody is at them and on their case about everything that it seems really petty for me to correct them.
What they are referring to infact is the UNESCO World Heritage listing. But maths is probably not a strong point in this country. It is true that Italy has more sites on the respective lists than any other country, and that like any other person who dabbles in a bit of nationalism, they deserve to be proud of their heritage, but, its not the one horse race some Italians would have you believe.
Italy, by the latest count, has 44 sites listed for their cultural significance. That's six more than Spain (38) and eleven more than both Germany and France's total of 33.
Overall, on the combined list of natural and cultural sites, Italy comes in trumps again with 47, with Spain close behind with 43 and China with 41.
These are impressive numbers. There is an entirely other debate to be had about the UNESCO listings, but its important to also consider that there are approxiamately 725 sites around the world that have qualified for status. Italians who cling to this idea that their cultural heritage is the centre of the universe probably could do with a cup of tea and a few deep breaths before being made aware of this.
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THE Vatican museum clocked up over five million visits last year, making it one of the most visited museums in Europe, and with a total figure that puts it into the big league. This for the Vatican museums is a record breaking number.
I myself have visited a couple of times. I remember my first visit back in 1996 when on my first visit to Rome I popped in to see the Sistine Chapel and walked out with a passive smoking habit.
At the time, I couldn't believe that people were smoking cigars under that amazing ceiling. In subsequent visits I recall being horrified by the restoration that had taken place, mostly because I was so accustomed to seeing the washed out colors through the haze of tar and smoke that clung to its surface. Seeing it restored on my next visit (in 2001) left me without my bearings. It would be like seeing Rome clean and without the taint of smog that covers a lot of the city.
Anyway, back to the museum visits. The Vatican Museums offer free entry once a month if you are willing to queue for a few hours and join the throngs of others who are trying to save €15 or whatever it is they charge to get in these days. There is also a huge private industry of organised tours that sustains a lot of employment in Rome, particularly for art history graduates who can speak multiple languages.
I haven't been for two years now, mostly because I have HUGE issues with the place.
Not because its the Vatican, because, well, normally I don't give a damn about the church. Perhaps I am part of the naive but mostly I like to pretend that they don't even exist. I am so used to living in a secular nation that the only time they rile me is when they cross that line and mix into politics. The endemic corruption, closeted nature of so many of the clergy (who you can spot a mile away here in Rome) and the ridiculously out of touch nature of the organisation mostly just make me roll my eyes. My expectations of organised religion are so low that nothing really surprises me.
What I do have a huge issue with is the Vatican Museums, their general existence, their approach and the fact that they have a collection which produces eye wincing envy in others.
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Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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