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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A New Museum of 20th-Century Italian Art - A Construction Mogul Gives Back (a little or a lot?)

A portrait of the Cerasis by Stefano Di Stasio (2016),
against the backdrop of one of the artworks in their
collection, Ballo sul fiume ["Dance along the river"] (1935-36) 
by Giuseppe Capogrossi.
The display of 20th-century Italian art took a giant leap forward this year with the opening of a new private museum in Rome, Palazzo Merulana.

The Palazzo is a refurbished - in essence, reconstructed - 1929 building housing the department of public hygiene. It holds 90 works collected by the construction mogul, Claudio Cerasi and his wife, Elena.

The Department of Hygiene as it looked when it opened in
1929.  You could get vaccinations there.

The Cerasis have performed a trifecta: they saved a worthy building, they opened magnificent artworks to the public, and they breathed life into a somewhat run-down neighborhood.

Whether all that public value is a net public benefit or not, more later.

Giacomo Balla's "Primo Carnero, Campione
del Mondo ("Champion of the World"),
oil on panel with mesh, 1933.

The building and the art work are worth a visit, and--by Rome standards--it's not expensive!  Only Euro 5 for a regular ticket, Euro 4 for concessions (like youth and teachers and you don't have to be an EU citizen to get those concessions) -- another Euro 1 discount through September 30, btw.

The art work is beautifully and creatively displayed.  We're talking De Chirico, Balla, Sironi, Pirandello, Severini, Cambellotti, among the many artists represented. There are a few 21st-century works as well. 

 I'm not sure of the date of this Matteo Pugliese (b. 1969) sculpture (left), which could be 20th or 21st century -  "La Spinta" - "The Push."  It's interestingly located in the outdoor terrace where one can have lunch or coffee - the first floor of the Palazzo, which houses most of the sculptures, is free. 

All Ontani's works are self-
reflective and look like him.

There's also a bust of Dante by Luigi Ontani, about whom we've written.

Arturo Martini's "Victoria on her
Way" (Vittoria in cammino), 1932,
note the fasci.

The building as it looked before the Cerasis
started to reconstruct it (more photos at the
end of this post).
On the fourth floor, which is primarily meeting space, there are photos of the building when it opened, when it fell into ruin, and when it was reconstructed.  All fascinating.  I read that the building was bombed, and that would explain the 1/3 that was missing.  But I also read it was slated for demolition in the 1950s and the demolition was halted - and that is the explanation.  What seems clear is that it was left in a partly demolished state for some 50 years.  So indeed its reclamation is astounding.

Part of the sculpture court and cafe' today.

Same area as photo above left, under construction.

I mentioned above the via Merulana neighborhood has been a little run-down.  It was clearly an upper-class neighborhood when built up in the early 20th century.  It also has some fame, partly as a result of an almost unreadable but significant novel by Carlo Emilio Gadda, "That Awful Mess on Merulana Street."  Palazzo Merulana clearly adds beauty to the street.  The Palazzo also is near Piazza Vittorio, now the locus of many immigrants in Rome (see our review of the documentary by that name), and seen by some as degraded.  Again, Palazzo Merulana's luster helps that area, too.

This is an excellent museum from which to get a perspective on 20th-century Rome - the building, the collection, the neighborhood.  

The question I raised at the top about net value revolves around the issue of a private museum generally. What did the Cerasis get in government support and tax breaks for this project?  Do the artworks remain available to the public even after their deaths? Would the Cerasis have contributed more to the public good by donating their money and their collection to a public museum?  In fact, the Cerasi construction company got the contract to build the national contemporary gallery, MAXXI.  Designed in concrete by Zaha Hadid, that must have been a heckuva contract. I wrote about this issue for theAmerican/inItalia's law column in August; here's the link.
Palazzo Merulana today
Palazzo Merulana is open 2-8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Last entrance 9 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Cafe' open 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Because it's open Mondays and not Tuesdays, this is an option for a Monday when most museums are closed. Website in Italian and EnglishEasily reachable from the Manzoni Metro stop on the A Line.  Also walkable from Piazza Vittorio and the Coliseum and their Metro stops on the A and B lines respectively.


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