Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, June 26, 2023

Sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro and Fendi Put On a Show

Bill in front of the 'opening' piece, Le Battaglie ("The Battles" 1995), which Pomodoro says was inspired by Paolo Uccello's "La Battaglia di San Romano" ("The Battle of San Romano" - first half of 1400s) in Siena. (Hisham Matar's "A Month in Siena" has many incisive pages devoted to this painting.)

A little late to the game, we "discovered" Arnaldo Pomodoro, thanks to a newspaper ad on the opening of a new exhibition of some of his large-scale works at Fendi's gallery at the restored Palazzo della Civilta' Romano in EUR. It's not that we hadn't seen his work before - we have long appreciated the globe/sphere in front of the Farnesina, the Italian "state department" in Rome. His "sphere within a sphere" are all over the world, we now know.

The exhibition at Fendi  - Il Grande Teatro delle Civilta' - "The Great Theater of Civilizations" - is remarkable for its installation of numerous enormous works - on the scale of Richard Serra's (though Pomodoro's are one-sided - one cannot walk in and around them).

The Palazzo (also known as the "Square Coliseum") is itself so imposing that at first we found Pomodoro's works installed outside of it simply too small and squatty.

Case in point, right.  Dianne tries to figure out what it is - against the backdrop of a much more imposing statue from the building's original design. Turns out it's Agamemnon, and the design was for a Greek theater production in 2014 in Siracusa and so, makes sense. It wasn't designed for this place.

Two aspects of the exhibit appealed to us. First, the delight of children grooving to the artwork, as at left.

Second, the excellent and informative flat material that gives shape to Pomodoro's lengthy career. He's about to turn 97 (the English language Wikipedia entry says his active years WERE 1954-2005 - whoops!). These are displayed in bright, large glass cases, slide-out drawers - both vertical and horizontal. We were intrigued by his work in the graphics medium.

And we learned about the placement of his works around the world. Newspaper articles and drawings showed that one of his obelisk-type sculptures had been installed on the Gianicolo, in a highly visible but unlikely spot - the traffic circle on the way up to the Bambino Gesu' Hospital that hosts the large entrances to the bus parking for the hordes visiting St. Peter's and the Vatican (you can also access the Caput Mundi shopping mall Bill wrote about recently from this underground parking venue). Below is the sketch - but it must have been there because there also were photos of it being installed. We missed it "in the flesh."

Left, Dianne checking out one of the drawers with sketches, newspaper articles, graphic works, and explanations. (If only my kitchen drawers worked this well!)

A hand-out at the exhibition shows the location of Pomodoro's works around Rome. We later were on a tour of Palazzo dello Sport (Nervi's ground-breaking building for the 1960 Olympics; Ali - as Cassius Clay - won his gold medal here), which features a Pomodoro obelisk in another once-traffic-circle (named Piazzale Pier Luigi Nervi), now abandoned and rather forlorn.

The photo at right shows the condition of the piazza and statue.

We've heard the complaint (and are tempted ourselves) to view Pomodoro as a "one-trick pony." If you unwrap the obelisk, it looks like the flat pieces. The shapes are similar throughout his work. 

The exhibition at Fendi ends with a newer piece (1996-97, below) that is a complement in white to the introductory Le Battaglie that leads off this post.

To us, it didn't seem to move the needle much in terms of his art. 

The title of the work is Movimento in pieno aria e nel profondo ("Movement in free space and in the depths" - or something like that!).

Close-up at right.

On the other hand, if one looks at his costumes, graphic work, public art - the way it is placed in the world, his vision seems greater.  

We close with some of these other pieces, including our having fun with them - which is a benefit of art as well.

If you can't get to Rome to see Il Grande Teatro delle Civilta' - "The Great Theater of Civilizations" before it closes October 1, the website is comprehensive. It includes all the works, plus a visual tour, plus a map of his works all over the world.

In Italian and English here:


RST with one of the costumes, this one from 1986 for Didone (Dido), one of my favorite tragic heroines. .

There's a relationship between the faux "printer's wheel" outside (Rotativa di Babilonia - Babylon's wheel, 1991) and the graphics-type work inside (Tracce I-VII - Traces 1-7, 1998) (above and below).

A close-up of Il cubo ("The Cube," 1961-62), one of the first works in the show, and one one of us found intriguing - maybe because it had some "white space" in it.

Below is the most recent of Pomodoro's sculptures in the exhibition - Continuum, 2010 - one that seems to highlight made-up hieroglyphics. Pomodoro's large, rectangular pieces remind us of Richard Serra's, but the Italian sculptor's are very much 2-dimensional with bas relief, not the 3-dimensional, run-around-and-through-it of Serra.

The artist with his barbed take on Fendi's Peekaboo bag - on display during the exhibition: 

(Image credit: Carlos & Dario Tettamanzi)

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Ostia's Garbatella - 1926 public housing and a WWII bomb shelter

Ostia, a town along the Mediterranean Sea not far from Rome - the new, not the ancient Ostia - is partly a creation of the Fascists. It was founded earlier, in 1884. Later the Mussolini government invested massively in it, resulting in many buildings of the 1920s and 1930s style architecture (the famous post office, among them).

Public housing ("case popolari") was first constructed in Ostia in 1926 and bears all the markings of the pre-modern architecture that was built shortly before the Fascists fell in love with modernism. The Ostia buildings most resemble those of Rome's Garbatella quarter, or of the quarter of Monte Sacro, built along the lines of a "garden city" in the1910s and 1920s. The state of the infrastructure is sadly poor, but the basic design of the complex is still lovely and worth exploring.

Above, one of the grand terraces, with an enormous Michelangelo-like cornice and citations to the Roman arches, that makes one think one is in Garbatella (as well as evidence of crumbling stucco).

The lead photo at the top gives a sense of the wonderful detail of early 19th century public housing, including small balconies, and especially portholes and the ship bas relief (top photo and photo at right), echoing Ostia's life as a port since Roman times.

The brief description of the tour we took described the housing project in these terms:

"There exists in Ostia a place where one seems to turn back in time to find oneself walking through Garbatella in the '20s...."  The architect was Camillo Palmerini, who designed the buildings "on the model of a building with an open courtyard. The arches, chimneys, the loggias, the small columns, the corners, the large cornices, all are examples of the so-called 'barocchetto romano,' a term coined by Gustavo Giovannoni in the '20s to identify the style used in Garbatella, today, an ideal dialog with the mosaics of Ostia Antica, colored with local elements of ocean inspiration - boats and marine animals."

In the basement (cantina) of the building complex were other reminders of history: exhortations to support Mussolini and the King, still visible on the walls of what was a bomb shelter for the residents. Below are two double V signs meaning "viva" or "long live" and then Il Duce and Il Re (the Duce, i.e., Mussolini, and the King) [love the brooms lined up against the wall too]/

We had a fairly intense discussion with a friend - a renown scholar of Fascism - who posits that retaining these "memories" of Fascism is not conducive to democracy. We appreciate the discourse, but in this case, disagree. [More photos of these 'writings' are at the end of this post.]

At left, the sign - in the same typescript - is an arrow pointing to the "Security Exit" (what Americans would term an Emergency Exit). Again, this is a leftover from the war, covered with modern electrical mechanics, and mostly ignored (like the one above) as text.

Above, our tour group in the basement/cantina.

The buildings also have beautiful staircases, with unusual angles, photo at right. We know the Romans love their staircases, witness the Bernini-Borromini Palazzo Barberini, as well as Luigi Moretti's in Trastevere's L'ex GIL (written about in our posts, as linked).

Our inside look at this complex, including its cantina, was courtesy of Open House Roma, which had a special focus on Ostia last year. At left, the crumbling arch through which we entered and sign at right of the OHR tour.

Adjacent to these beautiful, unrestored buildings is modern-day housing - which we eyed while having a coffee across the street.  Not bad, but one can't imagine having a tour of these 100 years after their construction.

Another stop on our tour was a brief look at this column, which once marked the end of via del Mare, the "road to the sea" that Mussolini constructed starting near the Colosseum and ending here in Ostia. The plinth now sports a bust of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the once "bad boy" of Italian arts, who was murdered on the outskirts of Ostia (another RST post features the park in his memory - near the murder site) [small photo above from Google Street View]. It once - as we recall - sported a bust of Mussolini. How times change (thankfully)!

More of the writings on the wall, beginning with the one below: "Mussolini - today more than ever - is right."

Below: not all the "saying" is visible, because of the light fixtures put over them (and note garbage cans below), but something to the effect of "don't worry about...who, for YOU it's best...."


PS - another post on a location adjacent to Ostia is RST's on the self-built, basically squatter community of Idroscalo.