The National Gallery, It's Just a Start, 1968

La Galleria Nazionale. Photo by Konrad van Halewyn

ROME – The National Gallery of Modern Art emerges into view from the gardens of Villa Borghese, a stunning building of classical grandeur. Through the pillared entrance, the ceilings of the atrium were expansive, the space tranquil despite the panel of curators speaking in front of a gossamer curtain masking the doorway to a new exhibition.

 While I wish I could have understood the emphatic words of the speakers, I ended up looking out the large glass windows onto the bronze sculptures in the courtyard. When the applause sounded and the curtain parted I walked into the exhibition. The room was quiet and filled with bespectacled artistic-types staring at the enormous paintings on the wall, or the black-grey cobbles strewn across the floor. I was drawn to a piece by Mario Schifano entitled Cinese, a five-panel painting with every imaginable red, sometimes bloody and dark and smeared, sometimes vibrant deep and royal. Forms of faceless bodies, suggested only slightly by thin lines and strokes, holding flags and blending into one another as they marched.

 “When they asked me to organise this exhibition, I began by looking at what works filled the exhibitions of the day.” Said Ester Coen, curator of It’s Just a Start, 1968. “I wanted to see what was important and groundbreaking for those involved in the artist world of that time.” I looked around again at the works, eclectic and varied. “I’m very interested in works that attempt to distance themselves from the symbols of the past, in Italian art” she explained “even today, often there will be a symbol involved that ties it back to the classical.” “And do you think that’s good?” I asked her. “Well…” she paused “look at this over here” and pointed to what looked like a wooden goal post with loft-insulation loosely wrapped around the top, I say “it looked like” … that’s what it was. She continued “its like a picture, I think it still communicates something.” I asked her “do you think that you should need context to enjoy art, to understand the symbols, or do you think it should just be an aesthetic experience that’s new for everyone?” “Well” she laughed “I think you have your answer in your question.”

 Upstairs was a new exhibition of the Italian artist, Renato Guttuso. The curator, Barbara Tomassi, explained “Guttuso’s work always worked on a dynamic between Eros and Thanos, love and death”, “isn’t that all art though?” she laughed, “yes, I suppose.” She gestured me over to a painting, a courtyard at dusk, houses peering over the top of a wall, and a tiger walking in slow, long steps, facing forward. “This painting was near the end of his life, the tiger is a symbol” she struggled for a second, “a spirit in the night, do you say this in English? It is death and vitality all at once.”

È solo un inizio. 1968:

03.10.2017 – 14.01.2018

Renato Guttuso. Un Uomo Innamorato:

3.10.2017 – 26.11.2017


Photo by Konrad van Halewyn