Buildings Roman


Left: Architect Zaha Hadid (right). Right: Adele Chatfield-Taylor, president of American Academy in Rome, and Miuccia Prada. (Photos: Antonio Puzzutiello)

AS THE CLOUDS PARTED and a chorus of angels rang out, God looked down from heaven and said, “Rome shall be the capital of contemporary art for one week.” And so it was last week, when the unusually torrential spring rain stopped just long enough to oblige a remarkable flurry of Roman contemporary art events, including the inaugural shows at the explosive new Zaha Hadid–designed MAXXI and the edgy expansion of MACRO, as well as the Rome art fair, in its expansive new premises at the ex-slaughterhouse in Testaccio.

The first of many American-sponsored events was on Tuesday, with an unprecedented exhibition of Philip Guston’s “Rome” paintings at the Museo Carlo Bilotti, situated suitably in the Villa Borghese gardens. US cultural attaché David Mees gave a formal introduction to the crowd, a mix of American officials and Italian curators including MACRO director Luca Massimo Barbero. Iconographic depictions of Italian landscapes and towns, ruins and statuary fragments dominated the impressive selection of paintings, rendered in fleshy, unsettling pink and red. The show’s curator, Peter Benson Miller, whispered, “I feel like I’ve gotten a gold star on my forehead, like in school.”

The same evening, the Gagosian Gallery opened an exhibition of eight large canvases by Christopher Wool, chaotic multilayered compositions of paint and silk screen. Carmela Vircillo Franklin, director of the American Academy in Rome, stopped by breathlessly on her way to the Guston opening. Romans and visiting American VIPs had to choose between the Guston party, at the elegant Villa Aurelia up on the Janiculum Hill, and Larry Gagosian’s dinner, at the ancient Castel Sant’Angelo. Choosing the cylindrical papal fortress guarded by statues of angels, I ascended to the panoramic aerie through a series of eerie passageways and staircases lit by candles.

Left: Shala Monroque with dealer Larry Gagosian. (Photo: Antonio Puzzutiello) Right: Curator Cristiana Perrella and Francesco Vezzoli. (Photo: Shala Monroque)

Upstairs the party was in full swing, with Francesco Vezzoli flitting around the tables like a devil in a camouflage-patterned Prada shirt, while Barbero and MAXXI codirector Anna Mattirolo were making each other giggle. Achille Bonito Oliva, curator of both the de Chirico exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and MAXXI’s Gino De Dominicis retrospective, who had not shown up for his scheduled talk at the Guston conference that morning, had clearly recovered in time for the dinner, where he was spotted standing on a chair and flirting with all of the women. The dramatic view from the loggia over the domes of Rome was as potent as the array of guests, which included Mercedes and Sid Bass, the Taschens, and curators Francesco Bonami and Carlos Basualdo. Next stop was the courtyard of the vintage Hotel Locarno, a new hot spot with pencil-thin waitresses where attendees of the Gagosian and Guston dinners merged to compare notes, and even Larry stayed until the wee hours.

The third edition of the Rome art fair, titled “The Road to Contemporary Art” (which just begs for the adjective “long”), opened on Wednesday afternoon in its new digs, a former butchery that normally houses the exhibitions of MACRO Future. Previously the fair was spread throughout several historic palazzos. Here, the sixty-seven galleries, overwhelmingly Italian, occupied booths that were arranged nicely in three spacious and easily navigable pavilions, amid the meat hooks and former pig-shaving vats. Nearly all of the foreign galleries were from London, including Haunch of Venison, whose name certainly suited the venue. To whit, critic Martin Herbert, who I ran into right off the bat, commented, “It is impossible to resist the obvious comparison to a meat market.”

When the place got too packed to see anything, I stopped for a drink with some other friends at the outdoor lounge, in the former cattle stalls, where dealer Peter Nagy regaled us with tales of living in India. The humid weather that day was not unlike the subcontinent, but luckily the fair hours were Roman—late afternoon to midnight—which also suited the surrounding nightclub zone. Adding to the buzz in Testaccio, Roman collector Giovanni Giuliani opened his new foundation earlier this month in a former electric company facility with the show “Mutiny Seemed a Probability,” curated by Adrienne Drake, making the area the Roman equivalent to New York’s Meatpacking District. (Now we just need a Whitney satellite and a Mexican diner.)

Left: Castel Sant'Angelo, site of the Gagosian dinner. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Artist Christopher Wool, Alessandro Twombly, and Mercedes Bass. (Photo: Shala Monroque)

High society was out in full force that night at the gala in honor of Miuccia Prada, also held at the Villa Aurelia, on the campus of the American Academy in Rome, where the designer was awarded the prestigious McKim Medal. I arrived at the same time as Hadid, who was dressed in a white silk Prada coat with sparkly mirrored starbursts. Guests were being shuttled the short distance up the tree-lined walkway in golf carts to where drinks were being served on the lawn, in a scene resembling a summer party in East Hampton (except for the painterly backdrop of umbrella pines).

Black-clad curator Milovan Ferronato chose to make a fashion statement with a swirling jeweled headpiece. Dressed in almost the same Prada shirt as the previous night, only with a brighter palette, Vezzoli complimented Verde Visconti’s bohemian-style caftan: “You look like a star!” The seated dinner took place under transparent canopies hung with chandeliers, where denizens of the art, film, and fashion worlds mixed with politicians and business magnates, among them Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno; Fiat chairman John Elkann; Marco Tronchetti Provera, president of Pirelli; and Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani. My dinner companions debated the merits of the new MAXXI building. After dinner, curator Robert Storr lauded Prada, then Adele Chatfield-Taylor presented the designer with the medal, after which diners filed through the well-manicured hedges to the dessert tables next to the villa.

The highlight of the week was, of course, the anxiously anticipated opening of the MAXXI’s first exhibitions on Friday evening, which would answer the question that has been on everyone’s mind since its tardy unveiling as an empty shell last fall: Will the bombastic $224 million building function as a museum or will the spectacular architecture overwhelm the art? The title of the main exhibition, displaying more than eighty pieces from the collection, says it all: “Spazio!” Starting on the ground floor, the De Dominicis survey, “The Immortal,” wound its way through the galleries, with large works hung above a ramp ascending from the entrance atrium. Although the journey was splendid, we had difficulty figuring out which work belonged to which show and which level we were on. When I commented on how disjointed it was, artist Max Renkel quipped, “Well, isn’t that what the architect intended?” Eventually we ran into the building’s structural engineer, Federico Croci, who offered to guide us to the top level. When someone argued, “No, those steps go down!” he replied, “But then they go up!” There was a lot of that.

Left: John Elkann, chairman of Fiat, and Cornelia Brandolini d'Adda. (Photo: Antonio Puzzutiello) Right: MAXXI codirector Anna Mattirolo and MACRO director Luca Massimo Barbero. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

The real spectacle that night was the stream of people moving like so many ants along the undulating curves and suspended serpentine ramps, visible from the myriad vertiginous perches. De Dominicis’s incessant laugh—a sound piece titled D’io, a play on the words for “God” (Dio) and “of myself” (d’io)—resounded throughout the labyrinthine museum, adding to the sensation of a carnival funhouse. One visitor referred to a sloping gallery with display walls tilting to and fro as a disorienting “hall of mirrors.” That is not necessarily a bad thing—it is an awesome experience. But as one friend noted, “If it’s the museum of the twenty-first century, why are most of the artists in the show dead?” As we watched one woman after another struggle to disengage an elegant shoe heel from the metal floor grating, artist Maurizio Fioravanti joked, “They should call it ‘the drama of the stilettos.’ ”

Outside, the exuberant party serenaded by discordant live music went on until after midnight. The Bulgaris, Fendis, and Pradas, François Pinault, Lia Rumma, and Gagosian were all there, as well as what seemed like all of Rome. “I love the building from the outside all lit up, and seeing the silhouettes of people behind the glass,” Financial Times critic Rachel Spence raved, referring to those peering down from a cantilevered precipice that looked like it could fall off at any moment. “Nobody will come after this since everybody has already seen it tonight,” joked critic Stefano Chiodi, who wrote an essay for the exhibition catalogue. “We will see how it works. In any case, it is really great for Rome.”

The next day, the other female architect of a Roman contemporary art museum, Odile Decq, held court at a brunch for local artists and curators on the terrace of her sleek new addition to MACRO. Connected to the original building, a former Peroni brewery, the airy steel-and-glass expansion encompasses a rooftop restaurant, a café, two new exhibition spaces, and a new entrance. I was told that I should check out the auditorium, a giant faceted geometric object floating in the central space, which is saturated in bright orange inside and out. “But you must see the bathroom,” insisted the always black-clad architect, who perfectly matched the black umbrellas and spiky futuristic lights of the restaurant. Although the new exhibition spaces are much more straightforward than those of Hadid, they also display the work of established artists such as Bruce Nauman, Jannis Kounellis, and Giulio Paolini. The question remains: Will the Italians ever let go of the past and take the giant leap forward? You could say that contemporary Rome was not built in a week, but it’s a good start.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Architect Odile Decq. Right: The Prada party. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: MAXXI curator Gabi Scardi. Right: Collectors Stefano and Raffaella Sciarretta, curator Achille Bonito Oliva, and collector Maurizio Morra Greco. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Delfina Delettrez and Valentino's Pier Paolo Piccioli. (Photo: Shala Monroque) Right: Alberta Campitelli, director of Museo Carlo Bilotti; curator Peter Benson Miller; and US cultural attaché David Mees. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Collectors Valeria and Pierpaolo Barzan, founder of Depart Foundation. Right: Critic Ludovico Pratesi and MAXXI curator Bartolomeo Pietromarchi. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia. Right: Patrizio Bertelli and Miuccia Prada. (Photos: Antonio Puzzutiello)

Left: Nicola de Martino with Gagosian director Pepi Marchetti Franchi. Right: Dealer Memmo Grilli and curator Eugenio Viola. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Galleria Continua's Lorenzo Fiaschi. Right: Writer Ida Panicelli with Marco De Michelis.

Left: Curator Daniela Salvioni and dealer Peter Nagy. Right: Christopher Wool and dealer Lawrence Luhring. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Dealer Nicholas Logsdail. Right: Art historian Giuliana Bruno, Elisa Rodino, and producer Andrew Fierberg. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Lida Castelli and dealer Claudio Guenzani. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Artists Mimmo Jodice and Marina Ballo Charmet.

Left: Art advisor Fabrizio Meris and dealer Gloria Maria Cappelletti. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Mambo director Gianfranco Maraniello.

Left: Dealer Mauro Nicoletti of Magazzino and collector Giulio di Groppello. Right: Curator Cornelia Lauf and architect Giuseppe Catalano. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Artist Manfredi Beninati and dealer Joe La Placa. Right: Artists Ekaterina Panikanova and Maurizio Fioravanti. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Artist Miltos Manetas and GAMEC director Giacinto Di Pietrantonio. Right: Artists Marco Fedele di Catrano and Dario D’Aronco. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Drago's Paolo Vonvaccano, artist Miltos Manetas, and curator Cristiana Perrella. Right: Artists Jennifer Coates and David Humphrey. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Gino De Dominicis show at MAXXI. Right: MAXXI engineer Federico Croci. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)