Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Graffiti: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. MOCA, and Rome

We recently spent some time in the pathbreaking exhibition of graffiti at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.  It's enormous and powerful; not to be missed.  But we were surprised that Rome was not featured, or even included.  The exhibit focuses on what it describes as "key cities"--New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sao Paolo, and Paris--cities where "a unique visual language or attitude has evolved." 

We can't claim that Rome has been the site of such a "unique visual language or attitude"; we just don't know enough about the art form.  That said, we've never seen or heard of anything like the giant graffiti mural/posters, applied like wallpaper to buildings in the quartiere of Garbatella last spring.  What we do know, having spent some time in New York City and Los Angeles as well as Rome, is that Rome seems to have MORE graffiti of all levels--the good, the bad, and the ugly--than either of those cities.  For good or bad--or ugly--it's everywhere. 

We've posted several times about the good stuff, and we'll leave it others with more knowledge of the international scene to make Rome's claim to inclusion as a great center of graffiti art. 

Our purpose here is limited.  We're offering a "typical" Roman wall on the bad and ugly end of the scale.  This one is located in the suburb of Centocelle, about 20 minutes from the Center.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of such walls in Rome, crammed with tags (signatures of graffiti artists), miscellaneous markings and scraps of posters old and new.  Some of the academics writing about graffiti argue that however ugly the ugly stuff is, it's essential--like a drummer learning the rudiments, a pianist practicing scales, or a skater stumbling through an early set of figures.  You can't have the good--graffiti as art--without first having the ugly, then the bad.  We're not sure that's true, but we've come to appreciate the energy and chaotic power of "ugly" walls such as this one. 

And maybe next time Rome will make the cut. 


m a r i a n a m o s c o s o said...

I love graffiti art in Rome. But definitely the best graffiti was on the trains:


Your blog is fantastic and this post in particular caught my eye as I recently did an urban intervention at the MAXXI gallery in Flaminio which uses a form of graffiti as the central communicator, heres the link to the short film i made about the project, (its only 5 mins long):

Erik Schmitt said...

For me the graffiti in Rome feels more like a violation that it does in more modern cityscapes (like San Francisco where I live). Layers of tagging on the patina covered surfaces that take generations to form or on fragile ancient structures disgusts me. The line between "art" and vandalism is a fine one when it comes to graffiti, with 95 percent of it falling into the mindless vandalism category.

Since my first trip to Rome in the early 90s I've watched the city become almost completely covered as high up as you can reach on every street with tagging. Rome isn't a railway yard or an abandoned building it is home to countless architectural treasures and should be treated with respect.