On the Spiritual Matter of Art at MAXXI

On the Spiritual Matter of Art at MAXXI

An exhibition where 19 artists explore the dichotomy between the material dimension and the spiritual

On the spiritual matter of art is a vast exhibition which asks ubiquitous questions that have accompanied us since the dawn of time and on which the evolution of humanity was founded. The curation transcends the binary classifications of nationality, gender, chronology and instead facilitates a dialogue between diverse ancient and contemporary sensibilities. Prestigious artists on the Italian and International scene, including Yoko Ono and Enzo Cucchi are displayed alongside archeological artefacts from the Roman Empire. The viewer is confronted with two rivers of thought: the first is a question of spirituality and the second that of materials and techniques. What are the boundaries that define the palpable qualities of art? How do different cultures and epochs approach religion? Can art elevate itself beyond the tangible world and connect the spiritual?

MAXXI: "On the Spiritual Matter of Art" exhibition in Rome
Matilde Cassani, Tutto, 2018 Fabric Commissioned by manifesta 12, Palermo Photo: Simone Sapienza Courtesy: the artist

The exhibition starts with Matilde Cassami’s velvet curtain Tutto, you must walk through the operatically draped velvet to begin. Surprise is an important element and as you pass through the curtain Cassami invites you to cross a metaphorical threshold, a symbolic and theatrical rite of passage which leads you into the realm of the spiritual. Behind the curtain is a light and sound installation by Hassan Khan, pushing boundaries of art through the use of unconventional materials. The rhythmic clapping is an allusion to the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état and follows you throughout the exhibition, putting the spectators into a gentle trance.

MAXXI: "On the Spiritual Matter of Art" exhibition in Rome
Sean Scully, Window Diptych Green, 2018 Oil and acrylic on aluminum Photo: Robert Bean © Sean Scully Courtesy: the artist. Credit: Agostino Osio, Alto Piano Studio.

The space, designed by Zaha Hadid, is organised like a labyrinth: at the centre is a Wunderkammer of archaic artefacts and the contemporary installations encircle it, leading you off on various paths, perhaps a nod to the intrinsic proximity of the past in the present. This sensation is most strongly felt as you take in Sean Skully’s geometric colour fields, flanked by two bronze peacocks from the Hadrianic age (~120AD). The birds, who’s usual home is Castel Sant’Angelo, are an allegory to immortality while Skully’s Window Diptych Green represents the relationship between the abstract and the everyday visual experience. What could be more abstract than allegorical peacocks?

MAXXI: "On the Spiritual Matter of Art" exhibition in Rome
Elisabetta Di Maggio, Greetings from Venice, 2018 Paper, stamps, glass Photo: Francesco Allegretto Courtesy: Galleria Christian Stein, Milan

There is a strong female voice heard through the exhibition. Elisabetta di Maggio evokes the craft movement with a breathtaking mosaic of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice constructed entirely from postage stamps. Interaction is forced upon you at Yoko Ono’s Add Color, Refugee Boat, where paint pot in hand you must contribute to her installation. In a time when we are flooded with news stories of boats sinking on the coast of Sicily, it is a poignant message on our connection with humanity and the tendency to disconnect from the trials of others.

MAXXI: "On the Spiritual Matter of Art" exhibition in Rome
Yoko Ono, Add Color (Refugee Boat), 1960/2016
installation view at Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece
© 1960/2016 Yoko Ono. Photo courtesy of Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece

Italian artist and member of the Transavanguardia movement, Enzo Cucchi, explores the mystical and mythical of popular culture, with small sculptures of idols, vestals, haruspices and wizards. He has conceived a complex symbolic alphabet which evoke the past in an exercise to rediscover our primal spiritual instincts. The most extraordinary use of materials is seen with Namsal Siedlecki’s Trevis, where coins and medals collected from the Trevi Fountain have been dissolved into a sort of copper and this metal is then slowly deposited onto wax sculptures. The process of transformation can be followed in real time and as the aroma of melted wishes swims around, you are challenged to connect with the supernatural.

MAXXI: "On the Spiritual Matter of Art" exhibition in Rome
Namsal Siedlecki, Trevis, 2019
Mixed media
Photo: Giorgio Benni
Courtesy: the artist and Magazzino

This is only a taste of the 19 artists who explore the dichotomy between the material dimension and the spiritual, using art to elevate the spirit above the mundane. Through a lens of the contemporary world a dialogue is facilitated with ancient sensibilities as rituals and religions are scrutinised and reevaluated in radical and unexpected lights. Such profound themes cannot be confronted superficially, as such MAXXI has organised a series of lectures by participating artists and leading experts in the academic field as well as film viewings and events intended to spark public debate. In the age of artificial intelligence, On the Spiritual Matter of Art triggers curiosity on the fundamentals of mankind and the origins and evolution of our intellectual and spiritual development.

Till March 8, 2020


Via Guido Reni, 4/a

Tue, Fri, Sat: 11am-8pm; Wed, Thur, Sun: 11am-7pm

Entry Fee: €9-12


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