Rome: Modern art, and, well, more modern art

photo: "Un giovanotto (La smorfia)" by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain"

a mirror with a smirking young man - and reflected in the mirror is Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (actually a urinal) which the boy now appears to be looking at

Today was spent entirely at two art galleries: the Zaha Hadid-designed MAXXI (holy crap, there's new architecture in Rome!) and the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna. You may recall I went to Galleria d'Arte Moderna a few days ago: this is something else.

To get to MAXXI I had to tackle the tram system. First I tried to get on the regional rail system (hey, they have long trams, and the trains have the same overhead electric system ... how's a foreigner to know?). Happily, rather than just buying the ticket I thought I needed, I told them my destination and they directed me around the corner to the tram line.

So many things to worry about with a new transportation system: how do I validate my ticket? (Rely on the kindness of strangers.) Is there a button to press? (No, it stops at all stops.) No announcements. (But - Google Maps tells you where you are.) Can I use the same ticket on a second tram? (I don't know: I did on the return trip, didn't get inspected, so it's moot.)

Lo and behold, if you get away from the historic centre and the tourist areas, there's new architecture in Rome. Of course "new" is a relative thing: it was interesting to see a church that was completed in 1913. The Church clearly still had a great deal of money, as the building is nearly as glorious (if not so artistic or detailed) as the older churches. I think it had a cloister, and it most assuredly had a beautiful bell tower some five storeys tall ...

And then of course there's MAXXI (opened 2010). If you want eccentric modern architecture, Zaha Hadid is one of the best ways you can go. I'm not a huge fan of bare concrete as an external texture, but it's a charmingly wonky looking building on the outside. And inside ... stairs and ramps everywhere, connecting big spaces at the ends of the building. One of my favourite art pieces was outside the building: Paola Pivi had installed a Fiat G-91 jet fighter upside-down under a building overhang.

They seem to concentrate on art from about 1950 onward, with most of the weight being in more recent stuff, particularly video installations and/or stuff that makes noise. It was definitely an assault on both the eyes and the ears. I've rarely liked video installations, and that didn't change here. There was some stuff I definitely enjoyed, but I have to admit it was a relief to reach the top of the building and Paola Pivi's (interesting it should be her again) weird and fun and quiet "World Record." This is a large installation, in which she set up a lot of mattresses covering a large platform - and about one metre above it, there's another suspended platform the same shape and size, also covered in mattresses. You're encouraged to take off your shoes and don disposable booties, and get in there between two sets of mattresses a metre apart. Not only did this not have a video or sound component, the mattresses had a significant sound-damping effect. I'm sorry to say I never climbed in: I kept my shoes on, and just parked the upper half of my body in the installation to rest and take photos. Partly I was afraid that if I got in there I'd pass out: I had enough sleep last night, but it was just so peaceful ...

photo: "World Record" by Paola Pivi

several people lying, and one crawling, between the mattresses

All this, and the outer edge of the installation was facing the huge glass wall at the highest point of the building with a nice view of the neighbourhood. I even made of a video of a young French girl (10 or 11?) showing a spectacular turn of speed on all fours between the mattresses. She did that several times until she was finally chastised by the guard: too bad, she was entertaining me to no end. When I arrived there were perhaps ten people lying in there. Eventually they all left, and it wasn't as much fun anymore. Mostly they lay there and chatted, or checked their cellphones: not a high energy installation, but peaceful and charming.

Back on the trams for the trip to Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna. This resembles a palazzo, but as it turns out it isn't really. Huge building, most of the rooms are immense, barren white, and have huge frosted glass skylights - pretty much perfect for an art gallery. I asked: it was originally built for an exposition. So not purpose-built for the current resident, but pretty much ideal anyway.

The works they showed ranged from 1846 (earliest I saw) through 2018, with a fairly even distribution (maybe a bit more weight around 1900 and less on yesterday). And almost none of those nasty noise-making installations. (Don't get me wrong: I get it, I'm just not much of a fan.) Something I found fascinating was the fairly large number of classical marble sculptures, all done around 1900: apparently Rome continued to have a fascination with that part of their history. Also interesting to me was that a lot of these sculptures demonstrated virtuoso body-work (if you see what I mean), and the only thing that stood between them and the kind of enthusiasm I have for Bernini was facial expression ... and none of them quite made it.

Three works were instantly identifiable the second I stepped into the room with them: one was a Henry Moore, the other two were by Alberto Giacometti. I would have said the same thing about the Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting, but I was wrong about that three days ago (right this time though).

I paced through the place three or four times: some really lovely stuff, and a great space. It seems my time period is very much from about 1850 through 1950 - although with plenty of outliers (Bernini and Michelangelo being the most obvious in the last few days). Amusing that this range is often referred to as "Modern."

There's a large sculpture by Giulio Monteverde called "Idealità e materialismo (L'anima in alto!)" from 1911 in the front entrance. It's ... nutty, horrible, wonderful, I couldn't decide. So several pictures were taken because that uncertainty usually indicates something interesting ...

It was raining when I arrived, but as I was leaving I had the opportunity to photograph the entrance. The stairs say "Time is Out of Joint" if you're on the right line ... and there's a pride of lions (bronze, maybe? and approximately life size) across the stairs. Similar lions populate the matching stairs across the street.

Dinner was at L'Osteria di Birra del Borgo Roma, only a couple of blocks from the B&B, a winning recommendation by my B&B manager (who listened when I said I like beer). I had a good pizza and a couple beers, one of which probably would have disgusted most people, but made me very happy: it was an Imperial Stout that was aged in Balsamic Vinegar casks, and it showed both the sweet and sour that would imply. I love it, but I got the distinct impression that the bartender who gave me my initial sample was NOT expecting me to like it, so I suspect it's a slow seller.

photo: "il trionfo di venere" by Francesco Podesti

high spirited Renaissance "writhing bodies" picture - lots of frolicking nude people on sea shells