Ancient artworks on display at Rome’s industrial space
At Centrale Montemartini, sparks fly between classical art and industrial archaeology, putting energy back into Rome’s first electrical plant. While much of the industrial area of Ostiense remains abandoned today, Centrale Montemartini stands as a perfect example of upcycling.
Set in Rome’s first public electrical power plant, the Centrale Montemartini Museum presents marble statues from the Capitoline Collection set against the backdrop of preserve turbines, diesel engines and steam boilers to create one of the most thought-provoking museum spaces Rome has to offer.
Originally, a temporary exhibition titled “The Machines and the Gods” was created in the old electrical plant to make room for new pieces in other museums, such as Museo Nuovo. Later, it was decided that the building would become a permanent home for a variety of classical sculptures.
Standing tall in front of an old water extraction pump is a replica of Callimachus’ 5th century B.C. Aphrodite sculpture. Although the unconventional curation initially comes as a surprise, it is nevertheless a nice one. The marble statue steals the show, as soft lights flatter each fine detail of the veiled body while the dark machinery behind it creates a strong contrasting backdrop. To avoid losing the art’s voice to the factory’s atmosphere, the figure is placed front and center on a high pedestal, demanding the attention that a Greek goddess of beauty deserves.
The papal train that was built for Pope Pius IX in 1858 can be found in one of the two boiler rooms on the ground floor. The other boiler room now tells the story of the late 19th-century urban transformation and the 20th-century fascist period, using informational panels. The machinery on this floor literally fills the time gap between these two movements in Rome’s history, as the plant was opened by The Municipal Electric Company, now Acea, in 1912 and later closed in the mid-1960s. Between each panel is a piece from the “From Myth to Miracle” collection, displaying Roman Sarcophagi and engraved artifacts that were meant to give positive portrayals of the afterlife. It is safe to say that the resurrection theme on this floor speaks to both the art and the old plant.
On the second floor are two diesel engines that were installed under Mussolini. Today, these machines create a wide aisle for displaying replica sculptures of original Greek works next to copies that were slightly altered to please traditional Roman style. While it may seem unlikely for such a museum to obtain a minimalist style, Centrale Montemartini puts effort into leaving the walls empty and the rooms open, allowing two worlds to flatter one another. While the large engines give the space its grandeur, the art adds warmth and color to the cold tones, so that with each turn you can appreciate both elements of the museum.
Aside from the fixed art, the museum also hosts a number of different exhibitions throughout the year. From February 19th-April 19th, part of the “From La Biennale di Venezia and Open to Rome. International Perspectives” project will be on display at Centrale Montemartini. The exhibition will focus on work from female Italian artist, Miresi.
Via Ostiense, 106 (Ostiense)
Tuesday – Sunday 9am – 7pm