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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rome's Alice Pasquini: Street Art Feminism, and Beyond

Closed newspaper kiosk, Piazza Mancini, Flaminio 
It's not easy to find information about Rome-based street artist Alice Pasquini.  What's available on the internet seems to come mostly from her website--valuable in its way, but limited and perhaps misleading.  Featured prominently on that website are the words "a visual artist who works as an illustrator, set designer and painter," but one searches in vain for evidence of her work as a set designer, and it's not clear where she's worked as an illustrator--unless she's referring here to her smaller works of street art.  She's essentially a painter, sometimes a stenciller.  Although her website, and other accounts derived from it, give her name as Alice and AliCè, her work is commonly signed Alice (pronounced Ah-lee-chay in Italian; hence the AliCè may be more representative, although in Italian the accent is on the second syllable).

Portrait of Alice by C215
What is clear is that she's prolific.  At age 35 (born 1980--even that was hard to find), she's worked as a street artist in dozens of major cities, including London, Sydney, New York, Barcelona, Saigon and, of course, Rome.

Pasquini grew up in Rome Prati quartiere, immersed in the '90s hip-hop scene, where she discovered SprayLiz--a comic book heroine whose specialty was political graffiti. Inspired, she graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, took some coursework in animation in Madrid (where she earned an MA in Critical Arts Studies at the Universidad Computense), and lived for a year in London. Somewhere along the way--there's a certain vagueness in her own reports--"I specialized in old style animation and worked as an illustrator and set designer."

Having been warned that painting was dead, she became a painter.  "'Art died with Duchamp, forget about drawing'--that's what my professors taught me and that's why I wanted to  get out of the studio and the academy."

She likes painting illegally.  "The adrenalin," she notes, "the 15 minute countdown to do something decent--to have your eyes on the lookout, to test what you can do spontaneously." Some of the smaller pieces she's done in Rome probably are in the "illegal" category, for she likes to paint on public objects--trash bins, electrical boxes, for example--that "could need a little love."

A small portion of Alice's work at a bar/kiosk in
Piazza Mancini, Flaminio

That said, in a current climate in which the best street art is recognized, encouraged and, in a certain way, contained, Pasquini has found accommodation with the "academy."  In Rome, her work has been exhibited at MACRO (2014), the American Embassy (2013), the Casa dell'Architettura (2013, a sensational one-woman show), and most recently at the Temple University gallery on the Tevere (2015).  In addition, it seems obvious that much of the Flaminio work--on kiosk businesses--was accomplished with permission.

Army barracks, site of 2015 Outdoor Festival, opening Oct. 2
With 15 other artists, Pasquini will participate in the 2015 edition of the Outdoor Festival, mounted this year at via Guido Reni 7, a former army barracks (ex-caserma) near the MAXXI gallery in Flaminio.  The show opens October 2.

One needn't depend on galleries to see Pasquini's work.  There's plenty of it on Rome's walls and other surfaces--especially in Flaminio, where she lived for a time with fellow street artist C215 (an influence on her work), Quadraro, and San Lorenzo, where a major mural lines via dei Sabelli.

Pasquini's street art celebrates "strong, independent women" (her words), contemplative, confident, sensuous, emotional, and usually joyful young women, meeting the world and engaging life in a physical way, whether leaping in exultation, riding a motorscooter (above), running, or relaxing in the confidence of one's body (see the painting at the top of this post). A website describes her art as "affectionate."

The via dei Sabelli mural (above and below) in San Lorenzo has a dark, threatening quality--one is tempted to say post-apocalyptic.

The elaborate work carried out in the basement of the Casa dell'Architettura, titled "Cave of Tales" (translated into English) also has that dark, foreboding quality, here suggesting that young women in the big city face a potentially difficult and threatening future.
The challenges of the big city, rendered in something
like German expressionist style

Alice at work
Alice plans with a ballpoint pen and sketchbook.  Studio work is accomplished with acrylics and enamels on wood, smaller city pieces with stencils, larger wall paintings with acrylics and spray paints.  Her work doesn't strike us as unusually innovative, especially given the enormous creativity and inventiveness of the current generation of street artists.  She's a painter, working--again, for a street artist--in a surprisingly traditional style and with a feminist message that's both welcome and rather well-traveled.

As you walk the city and come across the art of Alice Pasquini, consider, too, her words describing the dilemma of the street artist:

Moscow, 2014
"An artist who works outside, you always have one problem: you work someplace which isn't your own, where you don't live and to which you may not ever return.  What you do should be artistically or politically important.  But it is not a given that it will be positive for the people who have to live with it every day. This is a risk I take with my form of art."


Alice decorates a small trailer, courtyard of the Lanificio, a factory artspace, via di Pietralata, 59 (2013) . Dianne at right 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rome's Aristides Leonori and the big stones on Buffalo's Waterfront

This journey begins in Buffalo, New York--on its Lake Erie waterfront, to be precise--but ends in Rome.  A bit of patience required.

Marble bench, Wilkeson Point
Late last month the RST dynamic duo headed out to explore an area called the "Outer Harbor."  Buffalo's iconic lighthouse is out there, we knew, but we'd never seen it and, indeed, had never set foot on the huge expanse of woods, marsh, jetties, docks, and beaches known as the outer harbor.  An adventure.  Our first stop was at a delightful, large urban/rural park, Wilkeson Point: walking paths, kinetic sculptures, a mini-bridge, a children's slide, great views of the lake.

And throughout, scattered here and there, functioning as benches and art works, huge pieces of white stone, possibly marble, chunks and columns, that had the look of having been part of some ancient Greek temple.  Lovely and powerful. But where did they come from?

Marbles, dumped in Lake Erie

St. Joseph's "New Cathedral," Buffalo
Well, that's not entirely clear.  Some think the marbles are from St. Joseph's New Cathedral, a
magnificent Gothic revival structure built in Buffalo at Delaware Ave. and W. Utica St., finished in 1915 and torn down in 1976.

M & T Bank, Bflo.  Probable origin of the marbles. 

Others argue--with more logic, we think--that the waterfront stones were once part of the old M & T Bank building at Main and Swan streets.  The bank building had fluted columns of the sort found on the waterfront, the church did not.

Regardless of their origin, they ended up as trash on the shores of Lake Erie.

While researching one problem, we came upon another, one that led us to a Rome connection. The New Cathedral was quite "young" when it was retired from service, and there is disagreement about why.  Some believe that the edifice was in fine shape but that Buffalo's then Bishop, Edward D. Head, wanted it torn down so that he could build something else on the valuable and central site.  Others argued that the church had begun deteriorating soon after it was built.  Twin spires were taken down in 1927/28, little more than a decade after its consecration, and at great costs.  Chunks of the ceiling were falling, and pews had to be cordoned off.  The stones on the church's facade began to pull away from the brick wall behind them.  In the 1970s, Bishop Head argued that the structure was the "victim of bad design or bad construction."  One view was that the stones were poorly attached, primarily because the architect had no experience in stonework of that kind,  According to one website, "descendants of the general contractor and the architect blamed each other."

Aristides Leonori
The architect was Aristides Leonori, and he was from Rome.

And not just any architect.  Leonori (1856-1928) was widely known as a devout Catholic.  A member of the 3rd order of St. Francis, he designed the Franciscan Church and Monastery of the Holy Sepulcher in Washington, D.C., where a mosaic of his face resides.  Having graduated with a degree in civil engineering, he designed buildings all over the world--in Cairo (a magnificent church), Pompeii, St. Louis, Buffalo--an important city when he worked there--and, of course, Rome.

His Rome buildings include several hospitals and at least 5 churches, among them the Irish National Church in Rome (1892), a church in the Trionfale quarter and, perhaps his best Rome work, the church known as Santa Croce in via Flaminia (1912).

Having lived in Flaminio twice, we recognized Santa Croce immediately, and were surprised by its name, because it's not on via Flaminia, but just around the corner on via Guido Reni, just a few steps from the MAXXI art gallery.  It's an elegant, refined piece of work on a relatively modest scale, and
it doesn't look anything like the dramatic church he built in Buffalo just a few years later. And unlike the ill-fated Buffalo structure, this one appears to be in holding up well.  

Santa Croce in via Flaminia (except it isn't), Rome
.And that's what we learned from the big stones on Buffalo's waterfront.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Ponte della Musica: Update, 2015

Ponte della Musica, much busier than usual on a soccer night.  The Stadio Olimpico is close by.  Monte Mario in the background.  View from our apartment.  Skateboarding space below left.  
The Ponte della Musica (2011) sits astride the Tevere at the big bulge of the Flaminio quartiere, with Monte Mario (straight ahead), Olympic Stadium (up river) and Prati (down river).  We wrote about the bridge two years ago, ambivalently, praising the elegance of its white, skeletal, curving plasticity while questioning its originality, noting its resemblance to two much older bridges, the Bac da Roda bridge in Barcelona (1987) and the Valencia bridge (1995), both by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  Although we found the bridge more useful than did some critics, we subtitled that first piece "the bridge to nowhere."

Today we offer a different "angle" on the bridge, both figuratively and literally.  In June of this year we lived on the 6th floor of one of four 1930s-era apartment houses on Piazza Gentile da Fabriano, with an enormous terrace that overlooked the Ponte.  No one in Rome lives closer to the bridge, or has a better view.
The city, and the Alban Hills beyond, at dusk from Lo Zodiaco on Monte Mario.  The white triangle, center right in the distance, is Calatrava's unfinished swimming pool. 

French military cemetery.
From that position--unusual and privileged, we understand--we thoroughly enjoyed the access the bridge offered.  We hiked up Monte Mario (400 feet vertical) at least four times, enjoying the views of St. Peter's, the stunning views from the bar Lo Zodiaco, then dipping into the pleasures of new neighborhoods (Balduina and Trionfale) while discovering new sites (the amazing French military cemetery, Piazza Walter Rossi) and new paths on the mountain. All because of the Ponte.

We had cacio e pepe at Cacio e Pepe.
We also made several forays into Prati, whose northern end begins just downriver across the bridge. Piazza Mazzini, with its lovely fountain, came into our orbit, as did the jazz club Alexanderplatz and a guided tour of "liberty" architecture--all within walking distance of "our" bridge, and we enjoyed a well-known area restaurant, Cacio e Pepe (Dianne reviewed it not too positively for Tripadvisor), and two Lungotevere bars, one just across the Ponte, the other a long block south.  At the latter, and out for just a drink, we found live music and a free spread of food.

One of many brooding buildings in Prati.
That said, Prati--probed from the north, anyway--is not the most interesting or welcoming area.
Enormous, gloomy apartment houses--most built without provision for the commercial establishments that breathe life into a neighborhood--abound on Prati's north end, and its center is laced with block-long, deadening military establishments.  The southern end of Prati is lively and inviting, but it's also full of tourists--and it's a long walk (about 2 miles) from the Ponte della Musica.

Gymnast doing backflips for the camera.  

From our 6th-floor perch we also learned that the bridge is important for the activities it fosters, which take place on the bridge and under it.  Because the bridge is (for now) closed to motorized vehicles, and lies outside the regular tourist areas, it's open to a wider range of activities than the city's other pedestrian-only bridges.  It's used for photo shoots--some of them, at least, with a professional air--featuring groups of men with cameras taking pictures of dressed-up young women. One day we witnessed a small crew filming a gymnast doing backflips.

Exercise class. 

The wooden side walkways attract individuals and couples, reading, talking, contemplating, relaxing as they look out over the Tevere.  The wood walkways are also frequently used for yoga-like exercising, both by individuals and large, leader-led and organized groups. Joggers are frequent.

Dude dancing on the bridge.

The Ponte is also a performance space.  On one occasion, three young women posed for a male companion while standing on the end-of-bridge stanchions.  On another, we observed an aging
hipster, fresh from a physical confrontation with a nearby bar owner over an unpaid bill, break out into a strutting Michael Jackson-like moon dance.

Skateboarders--and graffiti

Below the main deck, skateboarders practice their skills on the large, flat concrete surface at the Ponte's Flaminio end, leaping on and off sleek granite benches that were likely not intended for that purpose.

Glass, broken cables, and a homeless man trying to sleep.
We enjoyed watching the skateboarders, but not everyone thinks they're a positive addition. In a letter published in La Repubblica, one citizen linked the skateboarders to the graffiti that mars the bridge, especially down below. Whether there's a connection or not we can't say, but there's no doubt that graffiti--and more generally, the destructive behavior of young people--is a problem below the deck, where ugly tagging mars the walls and broken beer bottles litter the stairways.  A homeless man was sleeping under the bridge.  Some of the wire cables that form the sides of the stairways were broken.  Graffiti has begun to appear on the vertical bridge supports on the upper level, though someone--most likely the city--painted over it during our June stay (in a color that didn't quite match).

Scooter on the Ponte della Musica, a pedestrian bridge.
The serenity of the bridge's main deck was interrupted on two occasions that we observed, when motorscooters violated the law and
used the bridge to cross the Tevere.  On one occasion, a young man of about 14, dressed in what might be described as the uniform of a junior police officer--or some kind of boy scout--upbraided the offending moto rider--who, apparently nonplussed, proceeded across the bridge.

And so it goes, at the Ponte della Musica.


Evening romance on the Ponte della Musica.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Modernist Treasure, or Monstrosity? Via Teano 223, Roma

We were somewhere in the Rome countryside, slogging our way toward the new Teano Metro station--our goal was to walk all the new ones in one outing--when we saw a huge, and we would say unique, building rise up before us.  Modernist treasure or monstrosity?  And what was inside?

School entrance
At one entrance, we learned from signage that at least part of the building housed a technical high school.  The IISS Di Vittorio-Lattanzio opened there, we learned later, in 2000.  (Lattanzio is an Italian family name, apparently a revival of the Latin name Lactantius, from Lactans, for the Roman god of vegetation.  Like you really needed to know that.  However,  the building is sometimes referred to as the Palazzo del'ex lattanzio, which strongly suggests that a lattanzio is, indeed, something.  The word isn't in our dictionary, but we're guessing it's an ex-cannery).

The other side of the round part of the building has been visited frequently by graffiti artists. When we walked through a large, open gate to get a better look, a guard indicated we had entered prohibited territory, adding, in response to our query, that parts of the building were used for storage.

That's the guard who told us to leave.

Indeed, the building, constructed between 1958 and 1961, was built for and originally housed a warehouse for the Teatro dell'Opera--that is, space for opera costumes and scenery--complete with a system of ramps.  In the late 1960s, elements of it (likely the square elements) were adapted for use as a school.  In the 1970s, the upper floors housed "sfratti"--that is, people evicted from their homes or apartments.
Iacurci's "Zero Infinito"

The flat, eastern end of the building features an enormous piece of street art by Agostino Iacurci.  It
was completed in 2013 with the permission (and perhaps the financial support) of the local government, Rome's 5th Municipio, and under the auspices of the Wunderkammern gallery, an avant-garde art space located in Tor Pignattara.  It's titled "Zero Infinito."

The Teano metro station is now open, so the l'ex lattanzio is easily accessible.  Don't miss it!  Via Teano 223.

New Teano metro station. Shades of Saarinen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beach Politics: the Ostia "Varchi"

A (mostly) private (or pay) beach at Ostia.  Not a particularly grand operation, with legal access to anyone
through a narrow passageway just to the right of the photo.  The beach is the same one in the last two photos, below.  
Everything's political--even the beach.   But because we're not regular beach goers (when we go we don't even take suits), it took us awhile to pick up on even the basics of beach politics.  Yes, in the past we had noticed that much of the beach was occupied by fancy clubs or expensive restaurants, and we had even made the mistake of entering one of those "membership" establishments and been turned away, with directions for the one public beach within reach.  

Then we saw this poster in several locations on the Lungotevere.  It belongs to the PD--the Partito Democratico, Italy's basic center-left party--and it presents the beach at nearby Ostia as an occupied and controlled space, inaccessible to those who aren't members, or who don't have money.  It suggests that ordinary citizens have the right, under the law and Italy's constitution, to use the beach. And it offers a way to insure that that right is real rather than than a formality.  

The sign notifies beach-goers that anyone can use the last 15 meters of beach--and
cites the relevant laws.  The photographer's back is to the water.  
The method?  "Varchi"--that is, passageways--that would allow anyone to get to the water's edge. Once there, access to the water, and to about 50 feet of sand above it, is guaranteed by law, no matter how "tony" the crowd is just beyond, no matter what club or organization owns "most" of the beach or controls most of the access from the street.  Similar access rights exist in the United States and, no doubt, in many other countries.  If you can get there, you can use it.

A varco (passageway) to the beach, between the
railing of a concrete pier and the chain-link fence on the left

On our latest trip to the sands of Ostia, we came across one of the varchi.  It's not especially welcoming: a rather narrow passageway, fenced in on both sides (to avoid users inadvertently entering the sacred space of the club at its flank), and not well marked (we overheard some folks asking what it was).  But it's there, and the masses will learn its location soon enough, and the PD will have made some progress.  A happy ending, perhaps, to this episode of "Beach Politics."   

In English and German, too