Friday, May 27, 2011

Macro, Rome

After last week’s rant on museum architecture, triggered by two newly built Rome contemporary art galleries, I’m dedicating this comparatively uncritical post to a flaky discussion of some of the works I enjoyed at the contemporary art gallery, Macro.  My original intention was to also discuss the work at MAXXI, the Galleria D’Arte Moderna and the Museo Bilotti, but I need to give my brain a brief reprieve before I start blogging about the Venice Biennale next week. I briefly discuss MAXXI’s architecture in the previous post, which will have to satisfy.

Why Macro?  Because unlike MAXXI, the gallery let me take photos of the art, which makes my life easier (It was made from plaster.  It looked like a lobster. But it was green. It was the same size as a lobster. But perhaps one of the ones that grows off the coast of Tasmania. Oh, I’ve run out of space for anything other than description…).  I can feel a rant on photography in galleries about to spill over, so I might just move on to the art….

As I noted in my previous post, Macro’s been built around a couple of ex-factories: the Peroni brewery and a slaughterhouse, and I’m going to confess now that it was my interest in museum architecture that triggered the pilgrimage to Macro, rather than the art.  I had it in my head for some reason, that Macro was going to be fairly small, but I almost missed my train out of Rome trying to cover it all.  It’s like a maze, a very spread-out maze, which gave the paradoxical impression of being a very empty gallery.  

Ernesto Neto at Macro
Ernesto Neto

The first works visitors encounter are Ernesto Neto’s large ear splittingly loud silver cube, and one of his ubiquitous hanging spice-in-stockings work.  The large space in which Neto’s work is installed is (I’m assuming) Macro’s ‘showcase’ area.  For some bizarre reason, whenever I visit an overseas gallery I encounter one of his works.  I enjoy his clove and cardamom-smelling installations, so perhaps the universe lures me to book tickets to certain locations based on this enthusiasm.  While the scale of Macro’s key exhibition space forces a certain amount of humility in the viewer, it was nothing compared to my experience of his 2006 installation Leviathan Thot in Paris’ epic Panthéon.  Neto’s white bulging organic shapes contrasted in the most bizarre way with the building’s strict symmetry, rich colours and indulgent ornamentation.  The otherwise frosty space was filled with the warm smell of spices contained within Neto’s large bulbous stockings.  In 2006, I’d just finished my undergrad degree in fine arts, and I think this installation was a catalyst for the subject of my PhD: site-specific art.  Basically, what I’m trying to say is Neto’s work at Macro was brill, but I’ve been spoilt by my Paris experience.  

Ernesto Neto, Leviathan Thot (2006), Panthéon

Ridiculously, the other work in Macro’s large space, The Crisis is (Not) Over.  Drawings and Dioramas, was by Dan Perjovschi - another artist who seems to ‘follow me’ OS.  I find his drawings amusing and topical, but I was a little disappointed that the work of a ‘new’ artist wasn’t in that monumental space.  

Dan Perjovschi, The Crisis is (Not) Over.  Drawings and Dioramas

Perino and Vele, Closed for This Week (2002)
I noticed the rough curved concrete supports on the next floor before any of the art.  I was sooooo hoping by that stage that there’d be some sort of didactic text telling me whether they’d bottled beer or slaughtered cattle in the space, but no.  Art was dotted throughout the respectfully white-painted space, such as Perino and Vele’s Closed for This Week (2002), hung between two pillars, and Mario Ceroli’s Goldfinger (Miss) (1965).  I enjoyed the former because it was something that pretended to be another thing, and Ceroli’s work because the ‘back’ of his sculpture still showed the pencil and raw saw-marks of its production.  I think I’ve mentioned my obsession with ‘things that pretend to be other things’ a few times in this blog.  Being in Italy, I probably don’t need to tell you that I’m in trompe l’oeil heaven right now.

Mario Ceroli, Goldfinger (Miss) (1965)
Goldfinger (Miss), detail

Daniel Buren
The Antony Gormley exhibition didn’t interest me very much, nor the sculptures of Sarah Braman, in fact, the room that interested me the most was what you could call a documentary art space, recording the activities of Rome’s alternative art space Galleria L’Attico in the 1960s and 70s. The gallery encouraged cross-disciplinary art, and as I learned from the archived photographs and exhibition posters, it hosted exhibitions by now well-known artists, such as Jannis Kounellis, Joseph Beuys and Robert Smithson.  The posters of Kounellis’ horses particularly caught my attention because Hobart’s MONA has a slightly less high-maintenance work of his that consists of a chair, bowl with knife, and two live goldfish.  If the staff at MONA thought the fish were hard enough, imagine how demanding the horses would be.

A couple of artworks played with the gallery’s architectural features: Daniel Buren’s site specific Dance between triangles and lozenges for three colours (2010) and the art in the two lift-wells, which could only be viewed in full by riding the elevator.  I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to video, so you’ll just have to believe me when I write that it’s worth taking the lift.

spotted in the Macro liftwell

Stay tuned for Venice Biennale posts…

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Contemporary art galleries in Rome and the new museum architecture

I’m so lucky.  I’m about to experience the Venice Biennale for a second time as I’ll be working there next month.  In the meantime, I’m studying Italian in Siena for a couple of weeks, and as the title of this post indicates, I just spent a couple of days in Rome.

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna
So, contemporary art in Rome… unfortunately, I didn’t find any small artist-run spaces (shout out if you know of any), but I visited the contemporary art space, Macro, and Rome’s new mega museum: MAXXI (as in art of the XXI century).  I also visited the smaller private gallery, Museo Carlo Bilotti Aranceria di Villa Borghese, and the city’s Modern art museum, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. I very much enjoyed seeing contemporary Italian art, and so I’ll write on the art contained within these museums in my next post, but in this post I’d like to talk about the architecture of contemporary art museums in relation to Macro and MAXXI.

MAXXI: the unassuming streetfront
Macro and MAXXI epitomise the new museum architecture: they showcase innovative architecture while retaining novel elements of the respective original site.  In the case of MAXXI, it’s really only the rather unremarkable (for Rome, at least) street front, but for Macro, it’s features of the gallery buildings’ past functions as slaughterhouse and Peroni brewery (don’t worry, they were separate factories).  I enjoyed both museums, but after visiting a number of galleries whose identity is very much connected to this new style of architecture, I’ve noticed that the declarations of ‘innovation’, ‘difference’ and in some cases ‘challenging the notion of the white cube’, are ironically very similar.

Here are some features of the new museum architecture:

[Update: Dec 2011. I have written a more thorough list at a later post here]

1. Angles. Not right angles, other angles.

National Gallery Victoria (NGV) Australia, Melbourne
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

2. Floating (or unlikely) staircases.


Macro, Rome
cage staircase, Istanbul Modern, Istanbul

3. The walls are mostly white, even if they’re self-aware of the white.  Sometimes they’ll have a few coloured walls just to show that they’re slightly subversive.

GOMA, Brisbane
Macro, Rome

The red to break up the white, Macro, Rome

4. (speaking of which...) A touch of red.

Ceiling, Istanbul Modern
5. Sexy concrete: polished for the floor; brutally raw or curved for the walls/exterior.


Istanbul Modern
Cer Modern, Ankara, Turkey

6. At least one ridiculously large room, which will often accommodate small objects.  You will look up at the skylights or beams on the roof (oh, so far, far away) like you would in a church.  The room will make you feel insignificant and humble. Art is god.

Macro, Rome
Macro, Rome
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project. © Olafur Eliasson. Photo © 2003 Tate, London
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project (2004), Tate Modern, in the turbine hall

7. They have toilets with weird sinks. You may or may not get them to function. (I wish I'd taken a photo of the Macro sinks, but it's a bit uncomfortable taking photos in bathrooms)

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane

8. The building has a previous function as a slaughterhouse, factory or similar (usually) industrial structure:

Macro (ex-slaughterhouse, Peroni factory)

Istanbul Modern (ex-shipping warehouse)

Detached, Hobart (ex-Church)

Cer Modern, Ankara, Turkey (ex-railyards)

Tate Modern
Tate Modern, London (ex-powerstation)
okay, it's not a gallery per se, but Cockatoo Island's a popular venue for the Sydney Biennale (ex-shipyards, gaol). It's similar to the Venice Biennale's arsenale in this way.  The use of industrial structures for temporary exhibitions is a whole other post...

9. Exposed plumbing or other functional parts of the gallery (also to show awareness of the white cube shiz) 

Pompidou, Paris

Istanbul Modern

MONA, Hobart

10. Rust fetish.  If the rust was not already part of the building prior to its current function as a gallery, ‘new’ rust is manufactured.  Rust fetish not only refers to literal rust, but also aged features in general - old machinery, crumbling bricks, old graffiti...

ACCA, Melbourne (new rust)

10. Site-specific art that responds to unusual or novel aspects of the architecture.

GOMA, Brisbane
Daniel Buren, Dance Between Triangles and Lozenges for Three Colours, Work in Situ (2010)
, Macro

11. A will to get visitors lost.


12. A funky gift shop, expensive restaurant, and similarly overpriced café.  It will have all three.

Cer Modern
Tate Modern (image credit: Splash Magazines)
Istanbul Modern (image credit: Tesker)
GOMA, Brisbane (with water dragon)

As I wrote earlier, my next post will be on the art contained within the respective museums, but I just had to get this ‘new museum architecture’ theory out there.