Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Off the Radar Series: Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Roma Capitale

Once called "Galleria Mussolini," now a refurbished grand display of 20th-
Century Italian - mainly Roman -  art

We found ourselves running out of time in an excellent exhibit of 20th-century Italian art at the often overlooked Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Roma Capitale - i.e., the City's Modern (as in before "contemporary" - before MACRO) Art Gallery.

A discrete, if not proper, photo of the current exhibition.
Until recently, the museum was a kind of backwater - in an art sense, not location.  It's up via Francesco Crispi from Gagosian's, and only a few blocks from the Spanish Steps.  But after an almost 10-year closure and renovation (and not the first decades-long closure in its history), it can now hold its own in Rome's dynamic 20th- and 21st-century art scene. 

The last two shows we have seen there have been astoundingly well curated and fascinating.  The collection - of 20th-century Rome art - is very good, perhaps better than the gallery's glitzier cousins - MACRO and MAXXI - who blew their patronage on their buildings.
Locations of galleries, cafes, and
hang-outs of the artists and writers
are on this map.

The current show features the interplay of Italian literature and art, beginning with Gabriele D'Annunzio and continuing through Alberto Moravia.  The panels and placards are all in both English and Italian. 

A 1923 vase by Cambellotti
The D'Annunzio room is titled "between Symbolism and Decadence." Both terms are apt for this World War I hero turned Fascist aviator and poetBill's post 2 years ago explored decadence in Italian culture, and featured D'Annunzio.  Several bronze pieces by Duilio Cambellotti in the "Liberty" style (a movement akin to Art Nouveau, but moving slightly into Art Deco in Italy) are on display in this room.  We came across Cambellotti in an exhibit a few years ago at Villa Torlonia, where some of his work is found permanently in the Casina delle Civette (on Itinerary 8 in Rome the Second Time).

Ferruccio Ferrazzi, "Fragment
of Composition," 1920-21
The material on Luigi Pirandello, writer of "Six Characters in Search of an Author," and considered one of the first absurdist playwrights, speaks cogently of his questioning of the self and the absurdity of the human condition.  Several large paintings of the period (mainly the 1920s) are displayed with quotes from Pirandello that the curator has selected.  A couple of the paintings feature a person examining himself or herself in a mirror.

We have seen a lot of Futurist exhibits in Rome and so won't add much here, except to say that part of a room is devoted to the father of Italian Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (who, despite his bellicose views, intrigued Yoko Ono) and the "sensation of flight" paintings.

Giacomo Manzu', Girl on a chair,
1955, bronze
The rest we leave for you to discover, pointing out that the gallery has works by Giulio Aristide Sartorio,  Giacomo Balla, Scipione, Mario Mafai, Afro, Arturo Martini, and Giorgio Morandi, among others.  The curating is excellent.  Don't miss the sculpture court on the first floor.

The current exhibition runs through September 29. 

The Galleria d'Arte Moderna's Web site is excellent, although most of it is not translated from Italian.

The gallery is open Tuesday- Sunday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., last admission 30 minutes before closing.  It closes at 2 p.m. on Christmas and New Year's Eves, and is closed, in addition to Mondays, January 1, May 1 and December 35.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

DAJE! A note on the mayoral election in Rome

It's election time in Italy.  Romans are going to the polls today (Sunday) and tomorrow, to elect, among other officials, a mayor for the city.   You'll be relieved to know that we have no desire or intention to discuss the candidates (there are 19, 4 of them serious), parties, or issues. 

The candidates campaign by holding big rallies in Rome's piazzas, and by postering.  The posters usually have a picture of the candidate and something about how that candidate is one of us and will represent the people and make life better.  Blah blah.  One poster, especially, intrigued us.   It belonged to mayoral candidate Ignazio Marino, a bland surgeon representing the center-left.  It said only DAJE.  Daje?  What's that, we wondered?

Daje, we discovered, is Roman dialect for the Italian word "dai," which means "go," as when your kid has the soccer ball and you yell "dai."  Daje is pronounced "daayeh."  Besides "go," it can mean "hurry up," or "OK" (as in 'Ci vediamo stasera?' 'Daje' [See you this evening?  OK].  Or even, and perhaps essentially, 'Fuck yeah!', expressing the excitement of a soccer fan rooting for the Roma team: 'Daje Roma!'  (Tonight is the final of the Coppa Italia; 'daje' will be heard a lot.) 

We'll find out soon if Marino's sophisticated sloganeering has won him the job. 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Shopping (or not) in Rome - Antica Libreria Romana Closes

All the photos here are for the once-lovely,
now-closed Antica Libreria Romana
RST is not known for shopping, but now and then a store really intrigues us.  And so it was with Antica Libreria Romana on via dei Prefetti in central Rome.

The full name was Antica Libreria Romana dal 1897 (Old Roman Bookstore since 1897).   Well, now it's 2013, and they are gone.  They had undergone some closures and different owners over the years, but 1897 and they can't survive 2013?  It's a pity, to be sure.

This "bookstore" for us was a print store.  They had a great collection of inexpensive prints - great mementos of Rome at prices ranging from Euro 5 - as you can see from the photo.  And not just the fake-o contemporary reprints.

Antica Libreria Romana also had bins of prints and leafing through them was great fun in itself. They specialized in antique books and also have other objects to lust after, focusing on "Liberty" - the 1920s.  The shopkeepers were friendly and not stuffy, and they would bargain. 

It's too bad, IMO, that this is the type of store that goes out of business, while the international big box stores - H and M, Nike, etc., populate via del Corso in ever increasing numbers.
You can add to the closure list also The Lion Bookshop in Rome, an English language bookstore that was an institution since 1947. And then one day in 2011, simply closed.  We know book stores the world over are closing because of internet access, and we're guilty of buying on the internet too.  But we would like to think there is room for some of these independents.


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Grass is Always Greener: the Saga of Piazza Sant' Emerenziana

Piazza Sant'Emerenziana, 2013.
Piazza Sant' Emerenziana was never anything special.  It sits in the north of Rome, in a quarter known as "Africa," fed by streets with names like via Tripoli, viale Libia, and viale Eritrea, references to the hard scrabble empire that Italy assembled at great cost--and then lost. 

Franca Valeri, in Il Segno di Venere (1955). 
Perhaps the highlight of the piazza's existence was its appearance in Il Segno di Venere (The Sign of Venus), the 1955 film starring Sophia Loren and Franca Valeri.  The scene filmed there includes both a tram (which no longer runs) and an ATAC bus stop (see photo, right).

The piazza's engagement with public transportation continues to this day.  The new B-1 Metro line runs under the piazza, but has no station there.  Residents are equidistant from the Annibaliano stop to the south, and the Libia stop to the north.  What the piazza got for this "service" was a huge ventilation system, right in the middle of the only section of the piazza available for socializing. 

As the shadows reveal, we were there.

And here is where the story gets interesting.  To mollify the neighborhood, it was decided to cover the huge ventilation box with grass.  Real, live grass.  With some kind of watering system. 

Then, somehow, despite ample spring rains, the grass died, or turned brown, or both, and the box
Spray-painting the grass green
looked awful.  So the authorities sent a guy out with--you're not going to believe this--a spray gun and green paint. And yes, he spray-painted all the grass green. 

Evidence of a watering system. 

We had to see this, and we did.  We chatted with some folks in the piazza, who confirmed that the grass was "erba vera"--real grass--and expressed their own amazement at what had happened.  What makes the story even weirder is that the painted grass looks good!  Just the right color.  And, even painted, it feels like grass.  Nice work.  Another victory for Piazza Sant' Emerenziana!


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How not to run an art museum: a few lessons for Rome

This artwork at MACRO last year may be a subtle message from
the employees to the patrons... read on
Okay, I know I shouldn't whine, and we try to restrain ourselves and not publish whiny pieces.  There's enough of that to go around in Rome without our piling on.  But several recent art museum experiences have forced my hand.  Here are four current beefs:

1) rude employees
2) explanations only in Italian
3) placards designed not to be read easily:  too small, too high, too low - in just one day, we saw them all
4) anti-social and force-fed audio guides

I'll start with the rude employees, since they disrupt the art-going experience the most.  And I'll pick on the employees at MACRO, the city's contemporary art gallery that we had (perhaps) the bad sense to rate above MAXXI, the state's contemporary art gallery.  They are just consistently rude and, as a result, cast a pall over my entire MACRO experience.

We have always had a soft spot for MACRO, the runner-up in most people's eyes, to the bigger, glitzier, starchitect-driven MAXXI.  But it seems when MACRO tried to imitate its bigger sister, it decided it should get chippier as well.  We loved the MACRO evening when they handed out Campari sodas and let people don hard hats and go down into what would become the main entrance/new addition by Odile Decq.  We've done more than half a dozen posts that highlight this gallery.

No money back... one of these signs - now which one? - warns
you the main building isn't open, tho' it just had its grand

So when the addition finally opened, we were excited to see it.  We trooped over to MACRO, handed out our then 9 Euros each (quite a price rise from the former 2 Euro entrance fee, but admittedly less than the now 11 Euro fee), only to be told as we walked to the new addition that - even though it had just had its grand opening a few days before - it wasn't really open.  And, no, we couldn't get our money back.  Couldn't we see the sign, said the unrelenting ticket seller.  In the photo here you can see that there isn't exactly one sign that stands out.  I guess that sign about the new addition not being open is here somewhere!

That was 2010.  Oh, well, we'll come next year, we said.  And we did, in 2011.  Then the new entrance was open - so open they wouldn't even let you in the former entrance.  One of those, okay, now just to get in, you get to walk all the way around the block (MAXXI pulled this stunt too - and the blocks aren't exactly short) from what you thought was the entrance.  And once you enter, you are treated to the opportunity to watch 6 employees while no one even acknowledges you're at the counter (photo).  Nonetheless, we swallowed our temptation to say "screw you" and walk out, and enjoyed the new building and exhibits - enough, as I noted above, that we rated MACRO above MAXXI in our post, even while taking note of the less-than-helpful employees.

Everyone except the woman in jeans is an employee...count 'em,
and no one is even greeting her.
So now we're at 2013 (I guess we survived 2012 without getting torqued).  And now there was only 1 employee at the counter and one patron - me.  Nonetheless, the woman at the counter managed to be snarly and unpleasant, even though we had combo tickets already purchased for 7 days of MACRO Testaccio and the basic MACRO.  Maybe she was disappointed she didn't get a sale.  We had to keep showing our tickets at each exhibit hall, and they were scrutinized.  "You know, these are good only for 7 days..."  Yes, we know, and it's within the 7 days!   Add to that less than stellar exhibitions (walls of flat work talking about galleries going back decades, but giving up in 2001 and not talking about the current decade, e.g.), and maybe we'll have to revise our 1-2 order for MACRO and MAXXI (MAXXI is on one of the 4 tours in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler ; see below for more information).

Sink as art: white when the water is cold.
Turns red when the hot water is on.
I should note these comments are limited to the main MACRO gallery, not MACRO Testaccio.

And we still like the toilets. 

More than all this, it just bugs me that a nasty employee can make me not even want to walk through the exhibit, and affect my attitude towards the art.

Now to those placards only in Italian.  The State's immense modern art gallery, Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Moderna, just north of the Villa Borghese, has an interesting show on Italian still life in the 20th century, including dozens of unframed paintings (wonder what the artists think of that!), "lesser known works," they acknowledge.  But all of the placards and explanations are in Italian.  Fine for us, but what about the other thousands of tourists who might want to know something about Italian art? We commend the CITY's modern art gallery (Galleria dell'Arte Moderna di Roma Capitale on via F. Crispi - a post will come later) for its excellent dual-language placards.  And the State can't bother?  In this show too, some of the placards were too high to read, and some you had to kneel to read.  Really?  Of course, that's not as bad as the placement of some of the art works - still lifes at 10 feet aren't exactly hung to be viewed.  Get a grip, GNAM!

And, finally, those dang audioguides.  Our last experience with those was at the comprehensive Brueghel family (don't be fooled and think you're going to see a lot of the Brueghel master himself - but you do get Heironymous Bosch's Seven Deadly Sins thrown in - and that's worth it) exhibition at Chiostro Bramante, just off Piazza Navona.  I generally don't like audioguides.  Some tell you what you're looking at ("there's a woman in a red hat" - okay, I can figure that out); some are excruciatingly long and off-point.  And they make the crowds cluster around the paintings they cover.  The text of this audioguide was in fact quite good.  Each piece was under 2 minutes and pointed out things one might not have seen or known.  Still, we were forced to buy the audioguides, because there was virtually no printed text accompanying the exhibit.  If you went in without the audioguide, as we first did, you were completely without context.  And, audioguides make museum going such a solitary experience.  How does one talk to one's companion, when you are always tuned into something, and not necessarily the same thing?  It seems so un-social, compared to reading a placard together and discussing a piece.  Sometimes solitary museum going is what one wants, but one shouldn't be forced into it.

End of diatribe.  Get over it, Dianne!

 Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler  features the 21st-century music and art center of Flaminio, highlighted by MAXXI, along with Mussolini's Foro Italico, also the site of the 1960 summer Olympics, and three other walks: the "garden city" suburb of Garbatella, the 20th-century suburb of EUR, and a stairways walk in classic Trastevere. 


This 4-walk book is available in all print and eBook formats The eBook is $1.99 through and all other eBook sellers.  See the various formats at

Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler
 now is also available in print, at, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores,  and other retailers; retail price $5.99.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rome and Burbank: Sister Cities

It's hard to imagine Burbank, California and Rome being mentioned in the same breath, let alone compared, but funny things happen when a city feels itself besieged, and that is how Burbank feels right now.  The source of its anxiety is comedian Jimmy Fallon, the heir apparent to Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," who has made it clear that when he ascends the throne in February, 2014, he will take the program--broadcast from Burbank for decades--to New York City.

There is a certain irony here.  Although "Tonight" contributes significantly to Burbank's economy, the show also shares responsibilty for Burbank's reputation as a place of unusual ordinariness.  The phrase "Beautiful Downtown Burbank"--never said without tongue in cheek, coined in 1968 by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In announcer, Gary Owens--achieved iconic status on "The Tonight Show," where Johnny Carson roasted used car dealers (take the Slauson cut-off) and damned the host
city time and again with the faint praise of "Beautiful Downtown Burbank."  To its credit, Burbank did its best to absorb and use the insult, turning the phrase into a minor public relations campaign, which included a postcard of the pedestrian mall (above). 

The imminent departure of the program offers another challenge altogether, and it has produced a more defensive response, as if Burbank without "Tonight" must convince us that the city does, indeed, have other attractions.  And so it was that Burbank's mayor, Dave Golonski, found himself showing off Burbank's treasures to LA Times columnist Gale Holland. 

And that's where Rome comes in. 

As Holland and Golonski toured the city, the Mayor seemed.especially proud of Burbank's AMC top-performing movie theaters, jammed on Friday nights and--this indeed is miraculous in Los Angeles--with free parking.   Walking up the stairs to the AMC 16, Golonski remarked, "This is our version of the Spanish Steps in Rome." 

It was, apparently, a joke.  Along the lines, perhaps, of "Beautiful Downtown Burbank." 


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jessica Stewart: Street Art Stories ROMA

Jessica Stewart, the talented photographer behind, has just published a remarkable small book, Street Art Stories ROMA,  that she describes as "The first book about the Rome street art scene!"

The "street art scene" is, in essence, graffiti.  RST is a great fan of Rome's graffiti, with more than 30 posts that mention it, and many that feature it (see some links below).  It's difficult in Rome to appreciate the "good" graffiti - that approaching art - given the ubiquitous "tags" that, frankly, dirty up the city.

Sten and Lex, working in Garbatella in 2010
By focusing on 30 street artists, Stewart draws our attention to the artistry of the form, distinguishing the work of the artists, and describing some of the artists' changes over time.
She acknowledges Rome stalwarts, like Sten and Lex, who do commissioned pieces (even at MACRO) and whom we have lauded in our posts, and she introduces us to a few of the artists who are active currently in the Centro, like Hogre (below, left), works of whom we found this week in Monti.

Tags.  Not fine art. 

By allowing us to distinguish and appreciate these artists, Stewart brings shape and a sense of wonder to Rome's street art scene, making it possible to separate the genuinely artistic from the wall "tags" that do little more than mark up the city's buildings.  We should point out that Stewart's book targets stencil and paste-up art almost to the exclusion of spray painting and use of painted letters and text that we consider the more basic graffiti.

The text runs along breathlessly, as Stewart provides the chronology of her involvement in the street art scene. She's more of a chronicler than an analyzer of street art.  But some analysis there is, and she's attentive to the making of the street art and the reactions of some neighbors.

And, Stewart's may be the first book, but Maria Theresa Natale has a long-standing Web site (in Italian - on graffiti internationally.  Natale focuses more on the painted scripts, as one can see from her Rome photos:

There are several current exhibitions of street art in and near Rome, obviously acknowledging it has entered the legitimate artworld - perhaps to its detriment.

A portion of Alice Pasquini's "Cave of Tales" at the Casa
"Cave of Tales" is a powerful meditation on urban life from one of Stewart's more painterly artists, Alice Pasquini.  The show, through 30 August, is at Casa dell'Architettura in piazza M. Fanti (the ex-aquarium - a great building, btw).  See the bottom of the site's Home page for hours.  The exhibit is in the basement (floor -1) and one accesses it from the elevator inside the portiere's office just on the left as you enter the building.

The town of Gaeta, south of Rome, has its own street art festival: This year's version included a week of just women street artists, among them Pasquini.

"Urban Contest Gallery 2012" has an exhibition open every day (noon - 7 p.m.) at via di Pietralata 159, at the ex-Lanificio complex.  The current exhibit by Biodpi is titled "I am Anna Magnani." It merits a visit if you can get yourself out there. Don't miss Pasquini's artful trailer in the courtyard of this ex-wool manufacturing facility.

ADDED (10 May) - C215 (Christian Guemy) at Wunderkammern Gallery in Portonaccio through 24 May.  Sabina de Gregori’s new book “C215” (Castelvecchi), with the participation of Jef Aerosol, Obey, Logan Hicks, Martha Cooper, Sten & Lex, and Wooster Collective, will be presented for the occasion.
For the opening Guémy painted walls around Rome, some in collaboration with NUfactory.

Address: via Gabrio Serbelloni 124, Roma.
Opening hours: wednesdays to saturdays from 5pm to 8pm.
Or by appointment at +39-3498112973

And then there's Greco's angry nurse (there are two, actually), on the wall of the Fascist-era post office on via Taranto. 

Stewart's 100+ page book has text in both Italian and English and over 100 photos, each identifying the artist (no mean feat itself).  Street Art Stories ROMA is available at the Feltrinelli bookstores (look for a special display), as well as  List price: Euro 14, Mondo Bizzarro Press.

Some prior RST  posts on Rome graffiti:

A primer on Rome graffiti (from 2009):

A post on the 2010 Garbatella street art exhibition, including outdoor installations:

Graffiti at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, and in Rome:

Deciphering neo-fascist graffiti on Rome's walls:

And a few specific artists, locations, and types:

Refuse trucks:

Via Appia Antica:

For more, search "graffiti" on the blog.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Extra Large": Big, Bold and Fun Exhibition at MACRO Testaccio

Big Bambu' by Mike and Doug Starn

Good views all around. Dianne, but not Bill, got to the top.
MACRO Testaccio is currently host to "Extra Large," an exhibit featuring big-sized installations and sculptures from Italian collections.  Though not part of the exhibit, a domineering outdoor sculpture by two Americans is extra large as well.  We think this is a very good exhibit, and (which we like) lots of fun:  bring the kids. 

The outdoor sculpture, Big Bambu', is up through this December.  But the basic exhibit, in two of MACRO Testaccio's large pavilions, comes down after May 11.

Signing one's rights away.
Hmm, is this decoration, or will
these really hold this thing together?
First to Big Bambu':  perhaps only in Italy can one climb all over this kind of a structure, and bring along the children!  The only prohibitions - if you are disabled in some way (need canes or other walking aides); and, if you are under 12, you need a parent or guardian along.  Amazing.  We did have to sign a bunch of forms, releasing MACRO from everything happening in the world today, but that was it.  And, it is supposed to be open until late in the evening (as is MACRO Testaccio generally), and lit, but because the lighting system is broken, you can't climb around it after about 6 p.m.  Since MACRO Testaccio doesn't open until 4 p.m., that's a small window of opportunity.

Refrigerator box, helpful employee (someone has to open
the door from the outside!)

"Extra Large" is interesting too, although, frankly, we didn't "get" all the art that's presented - not that that is anything new.  Some of it seems straightforward, and some quite interesting.  A few pieces are somewhat interactive:  You can go into this refrigerated (yes, not just fake) box and sit there staring at levers that say - Danger!  And you can pose with the (former) Pope and other questionable heads of state.

Who doesn't belong in the picture?

Unlike its mother institution, MACRO on via Nizza, MACRO Testaccio's employees are friendly, helpful, and seem to genuinely want to help you enjoy the exhibits.  So go for it!