MAXXI-mum space in Rome

The new contemporary art museum in Rome, MAXXI, opened May 30th 2010. Controversy still surrounds the design of the building by architect Zaha Hadid, but one thing’s for sure: there is a new, international feeling in and around this building.

I went to the MAXXI last week to breathe some of this international, contemporary air. I was ready to risk long lines but got in without a wait as it was lunch-time; lines were much longer when we left at 5pm.

To visit a place of artistic interest is something really interesting and thrilling.  You have to just get the facts and make your visit at the perfect time so that there is no mad rush.  That will make it easy to spend time in a focused manner on the art and enjoy it.  You even get to meet and discuss with the creator.

The exterior of the building and the well-planned space around it is already worth a visit. I like the curves in the concrete that hugs the building, I like the contrast with the older, reddish-coloured buildings in the background. The art chosen for display outside plays on the concept of “home” by creating artistic spaces that you can explore inside and out, for free. For outdoor seating there are attractive grey chairs that you can pick up and place where you wish, under a tree for example, and this “garden” was already put to good use by what appeared to be local elders more than tourists. This made me happy.

I proceeded inside the museum and felt immediately enthusiastic about its central open hall, the snaking stairwells, the natural light, and the airy space. I let myself be swept through the galleries downstairs that contain the temporary exhibits by Kutlug Ataman and Gino DeDomenicis, separate spaces accessed by the central hall or from one another.

Moving up stairs with metal grates, up white and concrete ramps, up floors tilted at extreme angles, one reaches the summit, the “box” that juts out on the exterior of the building, the inside of the MAXXI’s distinguishing feature… The window at the top, though, is curtained. Too bad.

Feeling tired, I reflect on the space. I am unable to physically map the area I’ve traversed over three hours, and my feet and body tell me I must have walked 8 kilometers. I realize that there is not a single bench in the whole museum. No wonder I’m tired. In 2003 during the Venice biennale, illy conducted research in conjunction with the Università Cà Foscari di Venezia into museum-visitors’ needs, and benches were not surprisingly amongst the most desirable accessories in the museum space

Why this assault on our senses? Apparently it’s deliberate. Wall text high up on a white wall near one of the white ramps explains this:

Walking through the MAXXI means momentarily losing our way, doubting our perceptions, being tricked by the overlapping of planes and the sloping of surfaces. It is an experience that questions our spatial conventions, in a fluid dimension that invites us to wander without a pre-established direction… The “inhabitable body” of art inaugurates an experience of space that is both radical and innovative.

Walking up this long ramp, in correspondence with one of the galleries I am hit by a blast of air that comes out of a square hole in the wall. I realize that this is ART, not a mistake in the air-conditioning system; there is a label next to it. I start to feel conscious of changes of temperature throughout the whole gallery, to think of how my body feels inside this “body of art”.

It is certainly a space to be experienced, but does one come out with a positive sensation? If you’ve been to the MAXXI, how do you feel about it?