From December 7th, 2018 to April 28th, 2019 | MAXXI Museum, Rome
by Rory O'Keeffe
Sometimes naming exhibitions is easy; an Andy Warhol exhibition will obviously include the words ‘Andy’and ‘Warhol’; with more elusive and multi-faceted subjects, it can be more difficult. For the new exhibition about the dialogue between the street and artists, the MAXXI has gone for the grand and slightly vague ‘The Street. Where the world is made’. The metro advertising also promises that this show, running from 7 December to 28 April 2019, will go ‘beyond your idea of an exhibition’. A bold claim.
If The Street’s advertising is ambitious, its scale is even more so. There are more than 200 works from more than 140 artists. At 9 euros, you’re getting good bang for your buck. Even a list of the sections reveals how much there is to see here: Mapping, Interventions, Street Politics, Everyday Life, Good Design, Community, Open Institutions (n.b the same in Italian). There is, however, no strong sense of a theme or order to these sections. Perhaps this effect is deliberate, reflecting the spontaneity of the street.
As for going beyond your idea of an exhibition, The Street feels like most other modern art exhibitions with a strong focus on installation pieces and conceptual film. The wealth of video content provides some of the highlights; O Sécolo by Cinthia Marcelle is an enthralling sensory onslaught showing hundreds of everyday objects being hurled onto a street. Other videos are more clichéd, such as Foot on, in which a foot crushes a can of Coca-cola over and over again.
The exhibition does have some novel aspects. Sissel Tolaas’s Smellscape allows you to experience scents of the street, everything from the smell of calming incense to foul dog shit. There are also free posters available from British artist Jeremy Deller, and printed green and red posters emblazoned with an Antonio Gramsci quote.
The MAXXI is also arranging performance events to coincide with the exhibition, such as the aforementioned Jeremy Deller’s How to leave Facebook, in which his posters detailing how to leave Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal were distributed in public spaces of Rome.
As a place where the public and the private interact, the street is a fruitful source of inspiration for many artists and the MAXXI has done a fine job of showcasing some innovative and thought-provoking talent. The size and variety of the exhibition is impressive but at times the theme feels tenuous, and there are also notable omissions. The elephant in the room is the absence of any graffiti-influenced street art. For an exhibition about modern art that calls itself ‘the street’, this seems like a massive oversight, a choice that would be justified if the exhibition were smaller in scale and more thematically coherent. But it’s still worth going just to smell that incense and dog shit.