Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Austrians, Art and Ambience

Is contemporary art is alive and well in Rome? Our answer is yes, but of course, we had to see for ourselves.

The Spring shows of many small private galleries who belong to the Associazione Romana Gallerie D'Arte Moderna (A.R.G.A.M. - i.e., the Association of Rome's Modern Art Galleries) kicked off the night before last with new shows, music and, of course, the vernissage (a little extra - i.e., food and drink).

But we began our search for the answer to our own question off the beaten track a bit, at the Austrian cultural institute or, as it's called, the Austrian Cultural Forum in Valle Giulia. The institute itself is a well-proportioned 1935 building with a storied history that of course includes the German Anschluss in Austria, the Germans taking over the institute too (and making it a German history institute), the institute being taken over then by the Allies and then the Italian state (if I read the placard correctly), and finally returned to Austria and restored relatively recently.

We had wanted to see the Austrian institute for some time (Rome the Second Time features arts academies, but we had never been to this one). We stepped inside the gate and immediately felt an (very un-Roman) Austrian presence of precision and cleanliness. The art installations by Austrian sculptor (yes, I heard her say to one of the few Italians there, this all IS sculpture) Katharina Heinrich attempts to intervene and contradict the clean lines of the institute. Where they let her playful interventions go, she is successful - as we hope you can see from the photos - but much of the institute remains rigidly itself. Still this was our chance to get into the institute and have some free (for Bill, always a huge plus) wine and a nice spread of Italian foods.

Another disappointment to us, and no doubt to Katharina, was the small turnout. In our hour there, the first it was open, we saw about 40 people, mostly speaking German. And, from the size of the food and drink table, they weren't expecting many more. Where was the rest of the Rome art community? Has the Austrian cultural institute been too small a player on this scene? The sculpture and opening deserved more, and the sculpture will be there through September.

We then went into the Tridente ("trident") area near Piazza del Popolo to hit a couple of the A.R.G.A.M. galleries. The art ranged from not so hot to very good, but then you'd expect that in small galleries anywhere, including Soho and Chelsea. By the time we ended the evening the musicians were packing up, the "friends" were sitting in chairs telling their gallery owner friends how wonderful everything was, and the tourists were taking their tired limbs to the same tired restaurants - ignoring all this verve around them. And so we scootered home over the Gianicolo...what could be better? Dianne

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