The Coliseum sounds exciting to most tourists, but when you have to deal with the illogical clogged one-way traffic lanes counter-crossed around it a couple of times a week, it loses its glamour. So when friends visit, I don’t take them there.
Rome is archeology, museums, classic sculptures, romantic bridges and piazzas and fountains and so much more, but contemporary art often gets ignored, although a number of modern art galleries were built in the last decades. The stunning Maxxi (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) was designed by the late world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and the attractive municipal Macro (Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome) has two branches, one in the Trieste quarter and the other in the southern Piramide/Testaccio area.
I chose to take a visiting relative to the former, which is located in a converted Peroni brewery. It’s hidden away in a neighbourhood that tourists don’t often go to, though it’s actually not so far from famous Villa Borghese.
The exhibit we saw – Roma Pop City 60-67 – focused on a now-retro, but previously famous epoch In which Rome maintained a visible profile on the international arts scene.
The gallery’s well worth a visit (so’s the other branch) if you want to tear yourself away from the classic postcard pathways of touristic Rome. One reason for choosing it was also the rooftop restaurant that serves a delicious lunchtime buffet on weekdays. The restrooms, after all these years, are still tongue-in-cheek sci-fi worthy.
Rome has an uncomfortable relationship with moving ahead in terms of architecture, and except for the futuristic EUR district project launched by Mussolini in the late 1930s, you can count more recent works of modern architecture almost on the fingers of one hand.
There’s the friendly and functional Auditorium designed by Renzo Piano, a great success as it’s managed to attract young people to classical music concerts – thanks to plays and jazz it also hosts on its smaller stages and in its summer outdoor theatre. It’s on the edges of the upscale Parioli residential district, and the local residents fought its construction tooth and nail for a good decade before the project was allowed to take off. All in the name of tradition and a distaste for things modern.
The construction of Richard Meier’s beautiful museum for the Ara Pacis Augustae also had to overcome enormous resistance and bureaucratic hurdles, and “destroying it, or moving it elsewhere” was part of a candidate’s platform in the 2008 election for Mayor of Rome. Said candidate did win, but thankfully backed away from his barbarian promise. The simple white and glass building sets off the mausoleum in soft hues of light and visitors are treated to excellent educational texts and visuals that manage to interest even the children. It’s turned out to be the municipality’s star museum as a source of revenue, and the lower floor welcomes varied exhibits and events.
When the Vatican held a competition to design and build a unique new church in Rome, world-class architects presented their entries, and Richard Meier won. Yet the church ended up being relegated to a far-off suburb six miles to the east of the historical center, just inside the Ring Road. The lovely Jubilee Church seems to want to float away with its three sails, and its airy inside is a light-filled invitation to prayer or simply meditation. It also functions as a community center for the local parishioners, but tourists are few. Almost exclusively knowledgeable foreigners who appreciate modern architecture and go to the trouble to seek it out.
Most Romans I speak to have no idea it even exists.
photos: statue of horses at Roman hospital and 4 artworks from the Macro Roma Pop City exhibit: 14thcountry.com; Ara Pacis: en.arapacis.it; Jubilee Church http://www.richardmeier.com
Btw, I’m taking a two-week offline break … a presto 🙂