ITALIANS WORSHIP NEW YORK CITY as though the Statue of Liberty were the Madonna. So it was little surprise that the opening of the exhibition “New York Minute,” on a recent rainy Saturday night at MACRO Future (a former slaughterhouse), was a smashing social event that attracted a hodgepodge of Roman high society, actors, fashionistas, and art-world denizens.
I had just landed in Rome fresh from the mad crush of Chelsea’s fall art openings, and it was surreal to encounter an American art assault on the Testaccio quarter, which would be—if you can compare the two cities at all—the trendy equivalent to Manhattan’s meatpacking district. The exhibition, curated by Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson, doubled as a premiere for the Depart Foundation, an institute headed by thirty-four-year-old collector Pierpaolo Barzan, who will soon open a space south of Rome. Touted as a showcase of a tight-knit group of young New Yorkers engaged in “street punk, wild figuration, and new abstraction,” it features sixty artists, many not from New York—nor so very young.
The American invasion began two nights earlier with the opening of Barry McGee’s mesmerizing “Mr. Brown” at Galleria Alessandra Bonomo. The gallery vibrated with works from the San Franciscan’s oeuvre—electric geometrics, clustered framed photos of tags, embellished surfboards, fluorescent orange Ray Fong signatures, and an African-style statuette spray-painting the wall. Afterward, everyone walked across the river to Giorgio and Gaia Franchetti’s enviable Trastevere home, packed with artworks from their awe-inspiring collection, for a plein air dinner. During a tour of the house, New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch was particularly enthusiastic about a pair of drawings by Alighiero Boetti that represent male and female as open or closed scissors. As we entered the chambers of the young Pietrarco Franchetti, we found a separate, rather smoky party under way––a fitting complement to McGee’s show. The hostess simply chuckled and pointed out some of the artworks as we ogled the heavily graffitied staircase.
On Saturday night, the intermittent drizzle that glistened on the Testaccio cobblestones did not deter the masses. (Provocateur terrible Roberto D’Agostino’s blog Dagospia read incredulously: “Six thousand people in line for hours. To enter a disco? No, a museum!”) Apart from an American artist here or there—Patrick Griffin, Ara Peterson, Aurel Schmidt, and Tim Barber among them—the cast of characters at the “New York Minute” opening was entirely Roman, and everyone was decked out in their downtown finest, often with a nod to the ’80s. With tattoos, graffiti, and skateboarding subculture long appropriated by the mainstream, the blessing of the Roman bourgeoisie seems to be the final blow to “street cred.”
Neatly installed in two cavernous spaces, the exhibition offers a balanced mix of works––installations, photographs, paintings, drawings, and a few videos. Full of loud, vibrant stimuli, the show seemed less a cohesive reflection of a movement than an expressionistic aftershock of ’80s East Village street culture, a post-postmodern ghost on acid. Encountering Jim Drain and Peterson’s giant whirling optical Pinwheels, which dominated the entryway like a fun-house obstacle course, Elizabeth Petrovski of the US Embassy crowed, “It makes Andy Warhol look like an amateur.” Tickled pink, an ebullient Deitch observed, “Art should be fun. The art establishment favors depressing artists. But we’re into color—no black, white, or gray.”
The atmosphere was often more lurid than bright, however, and the shadow of Dash Snow’s recent passing offered a more sober tinge. Fifty enlarged documentary Polaroids by the artist covered a wall at one end of the massive space, where viewers solemnly regarded them in respectful silence. A group of drawings by Schmidt, lushly detailed with gorgeous horror, take the memento mori to its most visceral and fantastic limit. Outside, I caught up with Grayson, who described the exhausting installation process as “a week and a half of Italians screaming at one another.” (She had landed in Rome for the first meeting only to discover that the museum had temporarily closed and that work could not begin as planned.) Artist Kevin Ancell added, “I told them, I’m glad you’re not doing brain surgery on me, or I’d be dead. They shut up for five minutes before they started fighting again.”
Surrounded by partygoers swaying to the music of A.R.E. Weapons, we departed the event craving pizza and found that the neighborhood trattorias were already filled with overflow from the exhibition. Given the present clash between the old and new worlds, it seemed appropriate that we ended up at Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo, where they were cranking pies out by the hundreds. The waiters didn’t know what hit them.
As the rain picked up, we got lost among the clubs around Monte Testaccio, then finally braved the mob at the entrance of the Big Bang, where artist and impresario Spencer Sweeney was DJing the afterparty. Once inside, we found that few of the artists had actually made it in. The mellow crowd was having a lovefest on the dance floor. Grayson slithered to the stage, two drinks in hand, smiling impishly. McGee enthused about the layers of graffiti, both ancient and recent, on the Roman palazzi. Barzan, who was sitting nearby on a ledge with his wife, Valeria, discussed the recent revelation that his town, Grottaferrata, was the site of Cy Twombly’s first studio. We chatted for a while before he noted that he’d heard that seven thousand people had attended the evening’s opening. (The number ended up closer to two thousand.) Not badthough taking the long view, isn’t a New York minute still just a Roman millisecond?