MAXXI Museum | Rome, Italy
From November 10th 2018 to March 10th 2019
by Rory O'Keeffe
Zerocalcare is a big deal in Italy and an even bigger deal in Rome. During one of my first conversations shortly after moving to Rome, someone told me that to understand the Roman way of life, I had to read Zerocalcare. It’s lucky then that from 10 November to 10 March 2019 MAXXI is unveiling the first solo exhibition of the fumetti artist (real name Michele Rech), covering the varied work of this self-made cultural phenomenon.
Four sections make up the exhibition. There is Pop, which comprises illustrations from the artist’s blog, zerocalcare.it; Struggles and Resistance, which shows his political work, from the early 00s all the way up to contributions to L’Espresso concerning the 2018 election; Non-reportage, which focuses on international injustice, especially the artist’s solidarity with the Kurdish people; finally Tribes offers illustrations, concert posters and record covers, detailing his involvement in the underground scene.
Visitors are welcomed by the mural Zerocalcare drew for his home neighborhood Rebbibia’s metro station and are then treated to a chronology of the artist’s impressive career. The information is perhaps in need of some trimming, and the idea of having visitors read it as they ascend the stairs is a neat idea in theory – it imitates the rapid rise of Zerocalcare – but in practice it’s more like a fire hazard, and it’s difficult to consume all the information during busy periods.
The shape of the exhibition’s walls imitates the curves of an Armadillo, the celebrated Zerocalcare character who represents the artist’s alter ego and conscience. A clever reference, but it’s likely to be lost on visitors unless they read the opening descriptions.
The most successful aspects of ‘Digging Ditches – Feeding Crocodiles’ are the fresh contributions by the artist himself. Annotations and drawings are scribbled next to some of the items on show, adding characteristically wry commentary on the exhibition itself, or revealing interesting additional information. These snippets mimic the experience of reading the razor sharp wit of a Zerocalcare book or comic strip.
Similarly impressive is the vast wall of over sixty posters, from the early 00s to present, arranged in non-linear order. The most colorful part of the show, it comes across as a more orderly San Lorenzo wall, plastered with political images and concert posters.
With videos, interviews, original sketches, moleskine notebooks, and punk music, there is no shortage of things to experience here; Zerocalcare is almost too prolific to cram into the MAXXI Extra Space. Given the frightening pace of his success, and his unending commitment to political causes, there is no doubt that in ten years’ time, he’s going to need a bigger gallery.