Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Bill Viola brought to you by an insurance company

A newly restored space in Rome. Palazzo Bonaparte (not to be confused, as we almost did, with the Napoleonic Museum) is in a palazzo where at least some of the Bonaparte family lived, on Piazza Venezia, at the beginning of via del Corso (tucked in a corner behind which wraps the Palazzo Pamphilj).

Above, the poster for the Viola exhibit, a video
still from his "Martyrs" series, this one "Water."

The current shows are two: the renowned US video artist, Bill Viola, and the Italian sculptor known as Jago, who is described as a "rock star" for his popularity.  Jago will have to wait another day for our visit. We went for Viola, whose work we've admired for years. 

Above, from "The Path (Going Forward by Day)"

The Viola exhibit includes 15 works, and therefore is one of the larger collections of his work in one place. It was curated by his wife. Kira Perov. It's hard to get photos of videos in the darkened rooms, though Bill was successful with a couple. (A good description and review of the exhibit is here: )

The Viola videos in this show have one characteristic in common: they are slow-moving in the extreme. One can watch for five minutes and nothing appears to happen. And then it does. 

Although we have not yet seen the Jago exhibit, his work seems to share with Viola's a concentration on the body.

Because of the darkened rooms for the Viola show, one cannot get a good look at the restored palazzo. We could see the floors are glass - designed so one can see (if the rooms weren't so dark) the elaborate painted and inlaid floors without tromping on them. The Palazzo Bonaparte Web site has some 360 degree views of the rooms.

A view of the Palazzo
Bonaparte's ground floor

The Web site also has an informative timeline (in Italian and in English) of what this palazzo "saw" over its two centuries on this famous piazza - from 1657 when it was first being built - through the creation of the Italian state, the beginning of gas lighting (it was the first palazzo so lit in Rome), World War I,  the building of the monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II, Fascism, World War II, and the post-war epoch. 

As in other art spaces in Rome, capitalism is at work here. The owner of the building - and the restorer - is Generali Group, an Italian insurance conglomerate, the largest in Italy and among the top ten largest insurance companies in the world. They've teamed up with a cultural behemoth that knows how to mount and run shows: Arthemisia.  The Palazzo's gallery space opened in October 2019 with an exhibit of Impressionist work, which closed in June 2020. The current shows, which opened in March, are the ones to follow, after a period of quiescence caused by Covid.

Cutbacks in government funding for the arts, the lack of a history of individual contributions to not-for-profits, and Covid--all have contributed to a shrinking of the Rome contemporary art world. The capitalists are to be applauded for filling in some of the gaps, much as I think their doing so creates a host of issues, including the obvious demonstration of inequality of income, and their control over what is shown. The Fondazione Sorgente and the Palazzo Merulana are two Rome examples. A Los Angeles example is a gallery opened by the Marciano brothers who made their money with Guess Jeans. It closed when the workers tried to unionize, to underscore my point about control.

Above and below right, two stills from the "Fire" video in the "Martyrs" series.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the art that the capitalists are bringing to us, even if they are making us pay for it. Tickets for each of the Viola and Jago shows are 15 Euro, 20 Euro for both shows at the same time (with a host of "reductions"). From our experience, you do not need to book in advance.  Ticket, days and hours (open every day, for many hours) information here.


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