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  • Dougie

One door stays firmly shut. Another opens magnificently.

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

We headed north west today. Not far. Just over two kilometres. All of it -- more or less -- on the roads. It's Rome.

My half baked plan -- as in no plan at all -- was to visit the Borghese Gallery and Museum then, maybe, spend a pleasant afternoon outdoors in the extensive Villa Borghese Gardens.

Art. Fresh air. Nice lunch. What could possibly go wrong?

Suck on this Dougie. It's the Borgias.

In their own words:

The Borghese Gallery is an elegant palace and world-wide famed art museum with exceptional paintings by artists such as Bernini, Caravaggio, Canova and Raphael. It is one of the must-visit places during your trip to Rome.

My 'plan' was to rock up to one of the most famous galleries in the world -- in one of the busiest tourist destinations on the planet -- mid-morning -- and say,

"G'Day Mate. Moy name's Doug.

Look, mate, ... Oi'm from 'Straylya. I didn't know that you allow only 360 people to enter the museum every two hour slot. It never occurred to me that every advance booking ticket would be sold for today and tomorrow. But can we come in anyway?"

That's not how the conversation actually went between Spike and the ticket office person in a room four stylish steps below the grand staircase at the front of the Villa. But the answer was still a firm, polite, unwavering, "no."

We'll book in advance next time. Like the rest of the world.

Never mind. We could stroll through the lovely gardens. Find a spot for lunch.

Then the thunder said, "I'd stroll quickly if I were you."

It rained. But lightly. Which was pleasant at first.

Then the thunder spoke again. It said, "I did warn you, guys."


We sought refuge in a nearby Casina. Healthy tuna salad lunch for Spike. Healthy pizza for me. When in Rome, etc...

The lake was greener than I anticipated, if I'm honest. The pizza? Fine -- but not as good as yesterday's.

I cannot claim, however, to be suffering intolerably. Quite the opposite. And we came up with a Plan B that surpassed anything my half-baked Plan A might have brought our way. So I'm not complaining.

(By the way -- such is my cheery disposition, I'm in danger of being expelled from the Grumpy Scottish Presbyterian Doomed Males Society. Although, maybe double check that bold assertion with Spike cos -- you know -- other opinions are available.)

We visited another -- spectacular -- art gallery. It is located on the Via Antonio Gramsci (which could not be more appropriate for a man of my political inclinations). And although the thunder had stopped talking to us, I would not go so far as to suggest that it was completely dry.

And next ... is the Rome puddle over the Rome dropped kerb that no Roman parked across. My front wheels were in the water going down the slope before I caught myself. I thought ... Douglas, if you move forward another inch you will fry the lithium-ion batteries in your $17,000 power-assisted Alber E-motion wheels that the good people at the NDIS approved.

10,000 miles from home. With no Plan B. I retreated. I know how to do that (sometimes).

The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome has leapt to the top of my list of favourite galleries. By a very long country mile.

It is not simply (or even primarily) about the art. Here, the compelling achievement is what the gallery's curatorial team has done with the -- admittedly magnificent -- art in their collections. This place has transformed how I think about the skill, creativity and purpose of curation. And as a result I think I will look at art, art exhibitions and collections in new and richer ways.

I'm a bit out of my depth here so forgive me if I don't explain myself quite well enough. I'm not an artist, not a curator, not a critic. I simply like to visit galleries. To sit and look.

Maybe I'm just late to this particular party. Maybe the whole world of art gallery visiting human beings has always seen how a curatorial vision can present, enhance and -- to a certain extent -- transform the way we view and read individual works of art or adjacent works when we see them in relationship to -- and in dialogue with -- other works of art.

This place is remarkable. Astonishing at times.

It helps, of course, when you can place a big black beast on your marble staircase at the front door or suspend a Miro from the ceiling in the perfect place or hang a Pollock on your wall.

Nor can it be a curatorial minus when you have artists who could achieve remarkable results with felt, Cellophane or a bicycle wheel mounted on a worn wooden stool (even if at least one of those artists was having a laugh at our expense).

And if you have -- not one but two -- tall Giacometti women and a Henry Moore and something by Lucio Fontana that you can 'simply' plonk on the floor, you are already ahead in the curating game. (Says the know-it-all 'art lover' who didn't didn't even consider they might have timed ticketing at the Borghese.)

All these pieces of art are accomplished, amazing, affecting ... deploy any superlative word you care to choose in an attempt to describe individual objects or paintings. But when this engaged, imaginative, creative team of curators got to work with (and on) the marvels within their custodianship they altered the experience of viewing.

Does this make any sense?

These curators (lead by Director Cristiana Collu and Time is Out of Joint exhibition curator, Saretto Cincinelli) have changed the relationship between the viewer and the works of art and -- this thought surprises me most -- the relationships between the works themselves as well as the ways we look and look again at each

We may view an individual piece, experience it, think about it, be affected by it (or not -- because sometimes we all pass by some works and think ...nah, not my cup of tea). But when we are moved by what we see in this excellent gallery we see the other pieces in the room. They may relate to one another or argue with or expand or add to or illuminate other works within the same space -- a small or large room, a doorway, a corridor, a stair case.

And we -- by which I mean me -- begin to notice the dynamic relationships these knowledgeable, engaged and creative curators have set in motion. The effect is to create a consequential new artistic experience -- almost dialectical if that's not too absurd -- in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And the parts here are magnificent.

Something new becomes possible that relies upon each piece of art and yet it's more than any single work. There is some multiplier effect occurring in this place with many things going inside one's viewing imagination, some which are not there with you in the gallery. And yet they're real.

Take this staircase, for example, looking down across two levels and through the window to the outside world. Four internal spaces, one external. Two artists. Two sculptures. Something partially seen on the wall to the left and on the floor to the right. Space, light, surface, shadow, colour. And me -- affected by it all. But not sure how or why.

Or this big room in which art of war and violence was assembled. Two enormous paintings of battle scenes from the 19th Century -- commissioned by the Italian Government in the 1890s; heroic, tragic, maybe even nationalistic and imperialist. A blood red painting from the 1960s. The bronze dogs fighting from 2005. The scorched earth tree trunk. Each one affecting in its own way. Viewed together in that room, the multiplier effect is almost overwhelming.

And then there is the Hercules gallery.

I kept returning here: to simply sit and let the vibes pass through me. I realise how ridiculous that last sentence is but this phenomenal room may be the most affecting art space I have ever been in.

It's not simply that there is the enormous Hercules by Antonio Canova (from 1795 - 1815). Or the prosaically named spoglia d'oro su spine 'd'acaciac (gold leaf on acacia thorns) by Giuseppe Penone from 2002. Or Robert Morris's untitled work -- a tunic in thick felt? -- from 1976. Or Pino Pascali's water installation on the floor (underneath that glass ceiling}. Or the Mondrian (Grande Composizione A from1920).

Any one of them would make you linger. Although the immense rage and power of Canova's Hercules might make you run away. It is a truly awe inspiring piece of sculpture.

It's not only that by sitting in that room you have most of the important bits of the myth of Hercules -- the Labours, his birth, his death, his rage, his madness, his wife's and children's deaths, the poisoned blood-stained tunic; fate, destiny and the duplicitous, petty conniving of all those jealous Gods.

It is that for a moment -- sitting in a tranquil room in Rome -- I thought I felt the rage and pain of the great Greek hero, Hercules. Is that not daft? He was not real. There are no Gods. And I was on my holidays. In an Italian art gallery.

That paradox, I now understand -- or maybe don't understand -- but feel. For a few transient moments inside those rooms I felt a bit like T. S. Eliot described in the poem Preludes.

I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:

The notion of some infinitely gentle

Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;

The worlds revolve like ancient women

Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Great art (and I believe there is such a thing) can help up see the truth of our messy existence. Great curators can change the ways in which we see the world. And we, therefore, can change ourselves.

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