When in Rome


Left: Tate director Nicholas Serota, Cy Twombly, Giancarlo Giammetti, and Valentino. Right: Artist Francesco Vezzoli and Miuccia Prada. (Photos: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)

The locals were ecstatic at the highly anticipated opening of Gagosian Gallery’s new outpost in Rome on December 15, which they see as a sign that the city has finally reemerged as a cosmopolitan cultural capital after a fifteen-hundred-year hiatus from being caput mundi. Considered in light of recent press focusing on the lagging Italian spirit and economy—most notably a New York Times article published just two days prior—the opening of the gallery and Cy Twombly’s exhibition, “Three Notes from Salalah,” gave especially welcome recognition that, while other aspects of the culture may be sitting this one out, its art market is indeed up for playing on the international level. In from London, Hans-Ulrich Obrist noted, “Rome has changed so much in the last decade. When I used to come, it was just following Alighiero Boetti around everywhere.” Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli summed it up by saying, “This is a proud moment for Italy, not just because it is Larry.”

Local papers had reported that the reception would be full of international stars and that Romans would be snubbed, much like Venetians were at the inaugural bash for François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi in their city. However, at the evening private view, art restorer Marianna Fonzo observed, “My father read in La Panorama that it would be impossible to get invited unless you are a VIP, but all of the Roman bourgeoisie are here!” According to curator Ludovico Pratesi, “All of the collectors, about fifty of them, were actually at the press preview this afternoon.” Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, for instance, came in from Turin and attended all three events. There was speculation that Fabio Capello, the new coach of the English national football team and an avid art collector and Twombly admirer, would show up. But when asked whether he was invited, gallery director Pepi Marchetti Franchi said, “He is not even on our radar, but I will definitely do some research on his collection.”

Left: Marc Jacobs and Jason Preston. Right: Larry Gagosian with Francesco Rutelli, Italian minister of culture and tourism. (Photos: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)

Many have questioned why Gagosian would open a gallery in Rome, where there are relatively few collectors; most speculate that it is a way to secure Twombly’s estate. In 2005, the dealer established an archive dedicated to the artist at the elegant Palazzo Borghese in Rome. (As it happens, painter Alberto Di Fabio—nephew of the other painter Alberto Di Fabio, Twombly’s companion—now has a show at Gagosian’s Britannia Street branch in London.) Gagosian has also worked recently with local institutions such as the newly opened Carlo Bilotti Museum and the municipal MACRO contemporary art space, both of which have exhibited his artists. Another theory is that the dealer is simply interested in expanding his investment in the work of arte povera artists. But it is also true that Gagosian need not be so concerned about the local market—after all, he is the magnetic magnate. Curator Achille Bonito Oliva—a ubiquitous personage of the Italian art world—commented in the newspaper La Repubblica that, in any case, it is a great coup that will enliven the Roman art scene.

The new Gagosian space is, of course, spectacular, as well as stylistically appropriate to Rome. Neoclassical columns frame the dramatic entry, and the main gallery, an enormous oval room, displays Twombly’s impressive triptych illuminated by a row of tall windows. The lush green paintings on wood are sensual reaffirmations of life, especially considered in tandem with the joyfully explosive blossoms in the recent show at one of Gagosian’s galleries in New York. With dripping, vaguely Arabic-looking white strokes, the paintings refer specifically to an oasis in Oman—a sort of eternal Eden—and have a vibrant depth. Standing in front of them, London dealer Kadee Robbins asked Hudson Morgan, an associate editor of Men’s Vogue, “Do you know what that color is called? Hooker green.” A single refined mixed-media work on paper from 1973, displayed in a small back room along with a spinelike bronze sculpture, elicited much admiration and curiosity as an unlikely choice. Gagosian explained, “I chose that painting because I saw it and liked it and thought, Why not?” Yumiko Saito, director of the Cy Twombly archive and the younger Di Fabio’s wife, said, “Well, he probably wants to sell it; it is a commercial gallery, after all.”

Left: Willem Dafoe with artist Joseph Kosuth. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Gagosian Gallery Rome director Pepi Marchetti Franchi with designer Soledad Twombly. (Photo: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)

Stefan Ratibor, director of Gagosian Britannia Street, a former industrial building, looked around and said, “Our space is not quite so baroque, let’s say.” Roman galleries are generally awkward, cramped, and filled with distracting historical details, but this space, housed in a former bank, feels as if someone has parked a big, shiny Rolls Royce in a neighborhood full of vintage Fiat 500s. Somewhat baffled that the ranks had thinned in the pristine gallery, we were told by Milanese artist Letizia Cariello that everyone was celebrating below in the raw basement space. Even Ratibor was uninformed, explaining: “In this organization, everything is communicated on a need-to-know basis.” Downstairs, Neapolitan Renato Pascariello was furiously composing multicolor pencil portraits while Vanity Fair special correspondent Bob Colacello was scribbling down the names of attendees. Morrissey, who currently lives in Rome, was spotted wandering the crowd, and a smattering of Roman artists and gallerists, including the Bonomo sisters, Alessandra and Valentina, were among the crush.

When asked whether it matters where one sets up a gallery in these days of globalization and the Internet—not to mention the proliferating art-fair market—Italian cultural minister Francesco Rutelli said, “Yes, in fact, in this virtual world we need real places more than ever. And we are happy that next year, we will finally open Zaha Hadid’s new contemporary art museum MAXXI, now that we have secured the money to finish it.” Unfortunately, the suavely handsome former Roman mayor had to rush out the door to another engagement. However, a few famous personalities were in evidence at the dinner: Bob Geldof, in town for a charity event; Marc Jacobs, passing through on his way to Paris; and Willem Dafoe, who recently married a Roman. The decadent candelabra-lighted dinner party was hosted in several ground-floor rooms of Palazzo Barberini that were specially decorated with dark velveteen walls and a mix of mod and faux-Baroque furniture, including chairs by Philippe Starck—as if to say New World new money has arrived. Over a buffet of seafood aspic molds and raw oysters, Umberto Allemandi, publisher of Art Newspaper, commented that although the art scene in Turin is more vibrant, “Rome is a much more beautiful place to live—there is no comparison.” And alluding to the days when all roads led to Rome, American gallerist Mary Angela Schroth observed, “Even now, everyone passes through Rome at some point.”

Cathryn Drake

Left: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine codirector of exhibitions and programs and director of
international projects, with artist Tacita Dean. Right: Valentino and Miuccia Prada. (Photos: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)

Left: Dealer Lorcan O'Neill and collector Pauline Karpidas. (Photo: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome) Right: (From center) Art Newspaper publisher Umberto Allemandi and Anna Somers Cocks. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Angela Piga and MAXXI director Paolo Colombo. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Afef Jnifen and musician Bob Geldof. (Photo: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)

Left: Artist Luigi Ontani and dealer Kadee Robbins. Right: Curator Claudia Gioia, critic and curator Achille Bonito Oliva, MACRO director Danilo Eccher, and architect Firouz Galdo. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)