Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome presenting "Rome is still falling", works by Robert Smithson

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Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome presenting "Rome is still falling", works by Robert Smithson
Robert Smithson, Rome is still falling. Exhibition view, MACRO 2022. Ph. Piercarlo Quecchia–DSL Studio. Courtesy Holt/Smithson Foundation e Marian Goodman Gallery. ©Holt/Smithson Foundation / Concesso in licenza da Artists Rights Society, New York.

ROME.- The exhibition "Rome is still falling" at the Museum of Contemporary Art - MACRO - brings together twenty-two early works by Robert Smithson made between 1960 and 1964, the majority presented to the public for the first time. The selection of works showcases a development from religious and spiritual concerns Smithson had prior to his trip to Rome in July 1961 to an experimentation with popular culture imagery and mixed media.

Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was a self-taught artist whose interests in science fiction, philosophy, travel, geology, architectural ruins and popular culture informed his entire body of work. His oeuvre includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, photographs, writings and earthworks. In 1961, at twenty-three, Robert Smithson travelled to Rome for his solo show of religious-themed paintings at George Lester Gallery. During his stay in Rome, Smithson was able to further explore his interest in Western history – in what he described as Byzantine art, ideas of archetype, myth, and anthropomorphism, and what he named the “façade of Catholicism”. As he reflected in 1972: “I guess I was always interested in origins and primordial beginnings, you know, the archetypal nature of things. This was always haunting me all the way through until about 1959 and 1960 when I got interested in Catholicism, through T. S. Eliot and through that range of thinking. T. E. Hulme led me to an interest in Byzantine and his notions of abstraction as a counterpoint to the Humanism of the late Renaissance”. This period is also marked by what Smithson described as an artistic and spiritual “inner crisis”. Rome is still falling takes the George Lester Gallery exhibition as its starting point to present a lesser-known earlier body of work that both draws upon and departs from Smithson’s spiritual and religious concerns during his time in Rome. Its title originates from a letter by Smithson to his wife the artist Nancy Holt, written in the Eternal City in July 1961, where, floating in the bottom-left corner of the paper, are the four words: “Rome is still falling”.

The time preceding 1964-65 Smithson described as a “period of research, of investigation,” and it also represents a moment of transition and development. Smithson's stated that he “began to function as a conscious artist around 1964-5”. The exhibition therefore presents works that occurred before his full 'awareness' as an artist: from representations of Christ’s feet, face and fallen Christ to advertisements and magazine cut-outs interspersed with painted religious themes, to black ink and pencil winged figures and architectural structures surrounded by language and letters beyond their meaning. The later works on paper in Rome is still falling introduce the viewer to another period in Smithson’s oeuvre: a specific set of drawings he began in 1963, at the age of twenty-five in New York, where religious imagery is fully replaced with figures from comic books, erotic magazines and popular culture.

Selected extracts from Smithson's writings and poems convey the artist's voice in the exhibition space to contextualise and frame his relationship with Rome, and his preoccupation with religious and spiritual themes. Four exhibition copies of Instamatic photographs of the artist in Rome are also on display.

With Rome is still falling, MACRO continues its ongoing investigation of Rome’s exhibition history within the careers of international artists who lived and worked in the city in the late twentieth-century.

Rome is still falling was organized in close dialogue with the Holt/Smithson Foundation, and will continue through May 21st, 2023.

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