The Street. Where the world is made, MAXXI, Rome

MAXXI — National Museum of 21st Century Arts
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Zhou Tao, Mutual Exercise, 2009, exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Luis Do Rosario, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Luis Do Rosario, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Pedro Reyes, Ciclomóvil, 2007. Photo: courtesy of the artist & Heinrich Ehrhardt Gallery, Madrid
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI
  • Exhibition view, MAXXI, Rome, 2019. Photo: Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy Fondazione MAXXI

[En anglais]

THE STREET. Where the world is made.
MAXXI — National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome
December 7, 2018 – April 28, 2019

For decades, visual and performing artists have taken to the streets as a place of social, political, and cultural dissent. Through various aesthetic means, they have brought critical attention to pressing issues by intervening in the built environment and shaping discourses of public life. An impressive selection of works engaging with these themes is on display in THE STREET. Where the world is made. at MAXXI in Rome. Curated by Hou Hanru, the project ambitiously undertakes the monumental task of mapping the street’s significance within contemporary art, architecture, and design. Gathering more than two hundred artworks of various mediums, including installation, video, print, sculpture, painting, and drawing, the resulting exhibition conveys the chaotic yet compelling conditions of present day urban rebellion.

Divided into seven overall categories — mapping, interventions, street politics, everyday life, good design, community, open institutions — THE STREET offers an impressive array of works and an important international perspective. Juxtaposing severity and light-hearted humour, the exhibition demonstrates that there is no single way to subvert power and generate social commentary. With the exceedingly dense layout of each gallery, some of the more playful pieces stand out as a result of their levity. Such is the case with Raphaël Zarka’s Riding Modern Art (Poster) (2017) in which the French artist documents the acrobatics of skateboarders rolling, grinding, and flying off of public sculptures. Zhou Tao’s Mutual Exercise (2009) also shares this irreverent approach to exterior architecture as he and a collaborator perform unusual gestures in New York City. Simple and mesmerizing, each action points toward the unlimited potential for public space to be manipulated and reinvented. Just across the hall, Sora Kim’s Turtle Walk (2010) is equally inspiring as two artists are videotaped carrying large white disks on their backs while walking the streets of Seoul. As the disks’ whiteness cuts through the landscape, the visual continuity and organization of the metropolis is fractured. Through physical experiments that centre on the body moving through the city, these artists distort habitual choreographies of the street. Equally absurd, Cao Fei captures the imagination with Rumba II: Nomad (2015), which features a video of two robot vacuum cleaners wandering among the ruins of a demolished suburb in Beijing. The work implicitly reconfigures quotidian space by developing twenty-first century forms of detournement.

In the CARS BY ARTISTS part of the exhibition, a wall of photographs documenting car projects designed by artists, salient issues about the politics behind each work and their subversive value arise. Andy Warhol’s BMW Art Car (1979), a collaboration with the major German manufacturer, carries a different aesthetic and conceptual impact than Michael Rakowitz’s (p)LOT: Proposition I (2004), a series of portable tents mimicking car covers used as living units or leisure spaces in the city. Juxtaposed, the two projects highlight disparate approaches to reimagining the car as a symbol of economic and social wealth. Thriving on the radicality of pieces like Pedro Reyes’ Ciclomóvil (2007–2009), the DIY and roughly cut nature of many works adds to the urgency of THE STREET’s cultural messaging. This is the case in Andrea Bowers’ La Raza y La Causa (2015), a display of 140 posters with potent political images that reproduce the polyphony of protest as it echoes the density of wheat-pasted billboards. Creating from the street and less about the street, these artists seem implicated in the complexity of context, which adds credibility to their work.

What is mostly an exciting and productive overloading of the senses, mimicking the political climate of contemporary street protest, at times becomes an obstacle to more nuanced and productive pauses in the exhibition. For this reason, thematic sections such as RETHINKING THE CITY are welcome place markers. In it, architectural theories and projects linked to the street are highlighted and connected in a timeline. This is effective, as it conceptually solidifies a series of loosely related interventions; something that in other galleries is difficult to trace regardless of the seven colour-coded categories used to identify each work. Rich with poignant provocations and an array of brilliant work, THE STREET. Where the world is made. raises important questions about the merits of urban artivism and its place outside of and within institutional museum spaces.

Published online on March 25, 2019.

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