Rochus Lussi, Füsse, 2005. Exhibited as part of the Road To Contemporary Art, by DAC De Simoni Arte Contemporanea, Genova
In recent years, Rome's museums have begrudgingly made way for some new major players, or at least, refurbished versions of older spaces.
MAXXI and Macro (which has two campuses near the city centre, one in the already gentrified area near Porta Pia, and one in the increasingly gentrified Testaccio) are slowly defining contemporary art for Romans in particular. Bear in mind, that this is a country where 'contemporary' may encompass something from the sixteenth century. This far south of Italy, contemporary art is still yet to truly take hold. Sure, there are a number of prolific commercial spaces who occassionally showcase significant artists in well curated shows, but by and large, this is a city where its four million inhabitants, have not yet really embraced contemporary art and ideas in a wholsale way. In a way, its as if their hearts and arms are so full of love of the past, that a viable replacement has not yet appeared on the scene.
That is of course, a really simplified way of looking at the situation, and it certainly doesn't speak at an individual level. Romans working on creative projects outside of Rome, particularly architectural ones, are often cutting edge, but there is a time lag here in Rome, when it comes to anything progressive.
I've been to dozens of exhibitions in the last twelve months or so, and, unfortunately, overall, the sense of contemporary art, the quality of the work, and the styles which seem to define it, are not yet on par with other European cities (including Milan).
At this year's The Road To Contemporary Art, the fourth annual event of its kind to be staged at Macro Testaccio (a former stable), the difference within and beyond Italy's borders seemed like a gulf. Milan fares a little better than Rome. Rome, is still a city under the radar internationally, trading on its past more than its present.
At The Road To Contemporary Art, the Roman version of an international Art Fair, is kind of like an institutionalised round of what's going on beyond the northern reaches of Italy at a commercial level.
Lack of Arts funding, a lack of a healthy discourse between Italy and other nations, as well as consistently shrinking university departments and accademies are taking their toll on contemporary Italian art.
At the Macro and MAXXI spaces, the exhibits of contemporary art is almost always mid twentieth century work, drawn from the collections. And this is a reflection of the Italian state of mind. After being all but brought to its knees during and after the second world war, Italy rebuilt itself, and for a period of around three decades, from the 1950s through to the late 1970s, culture went through a renaissance here. Groundbreaking architecture, cinema and art, in conjunction with growing industrialization, re-defined cool, and built visual ideas from intelligence and from stimulation of an increasingly international society. But by the 1980s, the resurgence of Italy grew to a halt; socially, economically and politically. Today, Italy remains in the shadow of this down turn of its fortunes, and this in turn is reflected in the vast majority of shows that these major players stage. Retrospectives of artists who dominated the early period of ideas, including the current big attraction at MAXXI, Michelangelo Pistoletto, give visitors a sense of recognition, identity and safety in these new spaces. But, they also serve to distance visitors from 21st century art. The effect is like going to a concert of a well known singer who is still making albums. If the artist elects to take the safe road and play the hits, then it diminishes the audience's connection with their current work. And so, as MAXXI and Macro devote so much space to essentially older artists, they flame the fires of nostalgia for a better period in the country's visual and intellectual past at the expense of addressing, understanding and supporting the new generations of creative people who already lack the opportunity to connect with what would otherwise be a challenging audience.
The Road to Contemporary Art then, is still a road that is blockaded, as was evident through the very mixed assortment of artists that galleries and institutions chose to highlight and used to tantalize. The development and progression of artist contingents from Tel Aviv, Iran, and the Balkans seemed more than just geographically light years away in comparison to the works of many Italian artists, whose works seemed perhaps a little behind the milleiu of what should otherwise be reasonably cutting edge. But of course, it's unfair to paint all the involved artists in such a harsh light, and following will be a number of posts highlighting artists and spaces who seemed to be saying something new, something contemporary in a 21st century kind of sense, rather than a 16th century one.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
For information about upcoming writing projects subscribe to the mailing list.
Dave hates SPAM so he won't trouble you with any of his own. He promises.