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MAXXI opens a major group show on the spiritual matter of art
Namsal Siedlecki, Trevis, 2019. Mixed media. Photo: Giorgio Benni. Courtesy: the artist and Magazzino.

ROME.- What does it mean today to talk about spirituality? Where does spirituality fit into a world dominated by a digital and technological culture and an ultra-deterministic mentality? Is there still a spiritual dimension underpinning the demands of art? In order to reflect on these and other questions MAXXI, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts, is bringing together a number of leading figures from the contemporary art scene in the major group show on the spiritual matter of art, strongly supported by the President of the Fondazione MAXXI Giovanna Melandri and curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi (from 17 October 2019 to 8 March 2020).

on the spiritual matter of art is a project that investigates the issue of the spiritual through the lens of contemporary art and, at the same time, that of the ancient history of Rome. In a layout offering diverse possible paths, the exhibition features the works of 19 artists, leading names on the international scene from very different backgrounds and cultures. The works of John Armleder, Matilde Cassani, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Elisabetta Di Maggio, Jimmie Durham, Haris Epaminonda, Hassan Khan, Kimsooja, Abdoulaye Konaté, Victor Man, Shirin Neshat, Yoko Ono, Michal Rovner, Remo Salvadori, Tomás Saraceno, Sean Scully, Jeremy Shaw and Namsal Siedlecki, mainly produced in the last two years and reworked specifically for the MAXXI space, are displayed alongside 17 extraordinary Etruscan, Roman and local archaeological relics loaned by four of the city’s leading museums: Vatican Museums, The National Roman Museum, The National Etruscan Museum - Villa Giulia and the Capitoline Museums. The relics date from a period between the VIII century B.C. and the end of the IV century A.D., that is, from the origins of the Roman period through to the moment in which Christianity became a state religion, and are therefore representative of the path that leads to the ancient and the pre-modern world, from the collective dimension of the sacred in the pagan era to the establishment of a more individual dimension of the spiritual in the post-classical era.

“The question of being, of man’s spiritual expansion, has always defined artistic research”, says Giovanna Melandri, “Art is at times capable of capturing our tension and going beyond the illusion of forms and matter (Maya). As Schopenhauer wrote, art can miraculously elevate itself above life, contemplating and transcending it. I was very eager for this project to go ahead. It was not easy to define its contents and confines, but I am certain that this exhibition will make a further contribution to amplifying the boundaries of the artistic and conceptual research of the MAXXI “laboratory”. I am convinced that the question of our spiritual nature, above and beyond any religious dogma, is a question that urgently needs to be asked of contemporary man. I would like to thank the Vatican Museum, the National Roman Museum, the National Etruscan Museum - Villa Giulia and the Capitoline Museums for having contributed to this project alongside us.”

“The compresence and the relationship between contrasting elements are clearly evident", says Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, Director of MAXXI Arte, “and its emphasis underlies the entire project. It is actually this impossible composition of body and spirit, between matter and spirit that is the most faithful representation of our existence. By the “spiritual stuff of art”, I mean that which leverages this dichotomy, between a material dimension bound up with personal experience and a need to rediscover practices and meanings that elevate the spirit above it.”

Gallery 4 will be dedicated to on the spiritual matter of art, welcoming visitors with an exhibition layout composed of lateral visions and totemic walls that permit a play of references between works of art and archaeological relics, thus facilitating continuous dialogue between ancient and contemporary sensibilities.

There will be a number of installations on display, including those by Matilde Cassani (fabric drapery, like a threshold introducing the space of the sacred), Enzo Cucchi (an artist to whom MAXXI is also devoting an Art Collection Focus show in the Gian Ferrari Hall, 17 October – January 2020), Jimmie Durham, Haris Epaminonda, Remo Salvadori and Namsal Siedlecki, produced or revised specifically for this project. The layout opens and closes with sound installations by Hassan Khan (a composition for hand claps) and Kimsooja (transmitting the echoes of a Tibetan chant), after which one accesses the large central space that houses large two-dimensional works including those by John Armleder, Francesco Clemente, Abdoulaye Konaté, Victor Man and Sean Scully in close relations with the objects from antiquity (the pair of Peacocks from the Musei Vaticani, the Fegato dello Scasato from Villa Giulia, the Winged Scarab from the Musei Capitolini, the Chrismon Necklace and the Leontocefala statue, both from the Museo Nazionale Romano and the Gem of the Goddess Rome from the Musei Capitolini – Fondazione Santarelli). Photography (the hands of Iranian women in the gesture of offering verses by poets of the Farsi tradition by Shirin Neshat) and video (Michal Rovner and Jeremy Shaw) dialogue with the immersive installations by Elisabetta Di Maggio (who recreates with postage stamps the Cosmatesque floor of St. Mark’s Basilica) and by Tomás Saraceno (who transforms the fluctuations of spider’s webs into sonic vibrations), concluding with a major work of participatory work by Yoko Ono.

The on the spiritual matter of art project also provides for the creation of a catalogue due to be published by Quodlibet in the autumn of this year that will feature texts by Andrea Carandini, Padre Paolo Benanti, Stefano Catucci, Raffaella Frascarelli and Riccardo Venturi. The critical apparatus present in the book also underlies the curatorial thinking and layout of the exhibition, the visual-photographic design of which will be curated by Agostino Osio (Alto Piano studio, Milan).
Flanking the exhibition project, an extensive Public Program will see a series of talks with the artists (Sean Scully, 17 October 2019 – Jimmie Durham, 17 November 2019); lectures (Massimo Cacciari, 25 October 2019 - Corrado Augias, 21 January 2020 – Andrea Carandini 25 January 2020 - Massimo Recalcati, 7 March 2020); film screening (A true story, dedicated to Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian philosopher, mystic and yogi, 13 November 2019); performances (Pejman Tadayon Ensemble, 30 November 2019 – Krishna Das, 4 December 2019).

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