‘More Than Meets The Eye’, neon artwork, Maurizio Nannucci, part of the permanent collection at MAXXI, Rome
Last July I was at the end of a few days shooting in Rome and had a free day before returning to London in the evening. I could have revisited some favourite sights, but the prospect of schlepping around the city in the middle of tourist season and mid-30°C heat just didn’t appeal.
In hot weather, galleries are a great place to just kick back in air conditioned comfort with the notion of cultural enlightenment. MAXXI was one that I hadn’t visited before in Rome, and so that was my morning agenda.
MAXXI was designed by the late Zaha Hadid, and my visit coincided with a retrospective of her work, roughly marking the anniversary of her untimely death. The exhibition focused mainly on Hadid’s architecture in Italy but also with a sprinkling of her international greatest hits and flagship works in progress, as well as her work in interiors and product. MAXXI’s description as ‘one of the most influential and visionary architects of our times, Zaha Hadid has redefined the architecture of the twenty-first century’ sums up the take away of the show.
All in all, pretty inspiring stuff for an architect who was resolutely determined to do things her own way and at the same time push the boundaries of possibility.
It was quite something to experience all this in a museum that she had designed herself with a real lyrical flow of space, both within the galleries themselves and also the gracious public areas.
I may have thought the Zaha Hadid show a hard act to follow, but what actually captivated me the most at MAXXI, but in a completely different way, was an exhibition of the radical Hungarian-born French architect and theorist, Yona Friedman.
He is best known for his 1958 theory and manifesto of Mobile Architecture, a treatise on utopian projects that deal with issues of urban planning, infrastructure and the empowerment of the user. More recently, in 2016 he designed the Serpentine Summer Houses at London’s Serpentine Gallery. Now in his nineties, Friedman is still a wide-ranging polymath, who’s theories cover sociology, economics, mathematics, information science, planning, visual art and film-making.
I found the exhibits of his ‘superstructure’ concepts made from bamboo poles fascinating, but my main take away was his display of philosophical mottos. Of these, the one that struck a chord the most was his Third Noble Truth that ‘Life contains innumerable micro-joys. Micro-joys are more important that great ones.’
In contrast to the inspirational and awesome grandeur of Hadid’s architecture, Friedman encouraged a focus on the small, human-scale details of the ordinary everyday, being in the moment and taking joy from it - the mindfulness that is the current zeitgeist.
I guess that’s what happened at MAXXI. I had meant to drop in for a quick walk through, was drawn to the headline starchitect show, but ended up lingering over a surprisingly deep exhibition on architectural theory by someone unknown to me before.
And so there really is ‘more than meets the eye’.
The exhibition, Zaha Hadid in Italy runs at MAXXI, Rome until 14 January 2018.