This Art Opera Is About the Here and Now:
OPERA OPERA Allegro ma non troppo at the PalaisPopulaire

OPERA OPERA Allegro ma non troppo is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of the arts. It is about opera, which per se is always a Gesamtkunstwerk. Opera uses costumes, light, architecture, painting, and theatricality; it works with masking, staging, performance to create new experiences of space and sound. Opera, as the title of the exhibition at the PalaisPopulaire suggests, is also the opus, the work itself. But does this penchant for the dramatic, the spectacular, really fit into our mediatized, crisis-ridden times? Yes, especially now, say Hou Hanru, the artistic director, and Eleonora Farina and Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, the curators of MAXXI, the Roman National Museum of the Arts of the XXI century. In collaboration with the PalaisPopulaire, they realized this extraordinary project, which is on view until the end of August.

Featuring important protagonists of Italian contemporary art and numerous international artists from the MAXXI collection, the show is an homage to the genre. From the perspective of the visual arts, it shows opera as an interdisciplinary laboratory for contemporary ideas, a testing ground for new aesthetic and communal strategies. In the process, Opera Opera, in the spirit of the artist Jimmie Durham, who died in 2021 and to whose memory this exhibition is dedicated, combines the transcendent with the everyday, the theatrical with ironic distance.

Under this motto, Hou Hanru and his team conceptually structured the exhibition venue like an opera house. The stage already begins outside, on the terrace, in front of the building. The sounds of the city mingle with the singing of Suzan Philipsz’s sound installation Wild is the Wind, which sounds from the trees. Marinella Senatore, who created a spectacular light installation for Dior’s Cruise Collection show in 2021, is showing a light installation in Berlin that can be associated with folk festivals, concerts, and carnivals, with long-lost collective community. Olaf Nicolai created a minimalist floor work that is a place of meditation and waiting. Visitors can have Justin Bennet’s mystical Oracle predict the uncertain future. Inside, the rotunda continues with Prelude, the section that leads up to the theme like the prelude to a piece of music. Here we find The Missing Poem is the PoemMauricio Nannuci’s lyrical neon sculpture from the late 1960s. Right next to it, the artist and architect Philippe Rahms created a sound architecture to the piano notes of Claude Debussy’s Cloches à Travers les Feuilles that feels like an empty exhibition hall.

Backstage is the name of the section on the bottom floor that takes visitors behind the scenes and is devoted to the themes of space and history, memory and archive. In front of the gallery, Rosa Barba’s commissioned work NO - Orchestra con nastro (2022) awaits visitors. The kinetic film sculptur, which works with sound, light, and celluloid, is based on research carried out in Milan’s Archivio Storico Ricordi. The legendary private archive preserves the original manuscripts of nearly all Verdi and Puccini operas, as well as manuscripts by contemporary composers such as Luigi Nono, whose notations are deconstructed and reinterpreted by Barba’s sculpture.

In the center of the gallery, Luca Vitone’s Sonorizzare il luogo (Grand Tour) takes us on a musical journey through the regions of Italy, a collective remembrance that brings togetehr sounds, places, and cultures. Alongside models of opera houses and theaters by Aldo Rossi, among others, is Fabio Mauri’s video installation Senza ideologia from 1975, which engages with fragments from Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s antiwar film Westfront 1918 (1930), banned by the Nazis, and with totalitarian and national ideologies whose propaganda often resorts to idealized images of the body and stagings.

The interweaving of the everyday, ideology, myth, beauty, and violence runs through the exhibition like a red thread, also in the section Theatre of the Everyday on the upper floor. It begins with a performative video work by Jimmie Durham, A Proposal for a New International Genuflexion in Promotion of World Peace (2007). Next to Michelangelo Pistoletto’s transcendent light sculpture Quadri di fili elettrici are Luigi Ontani’s photographic self-stagings: the 24 Portraits, framed in huge gold frames, were created in 1975 and question myths and gender roles. The work corresponds with a photographic work by Vanessa Beecroft’s minimalist performance VB74, in which she sets up a chorus of naked, veiled women reminiscent of Marian and Passion depictions from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This idealized representation is juxtaposed with the staging of black, enslaved bodies in Kara Walker’s silhouette work, which focuses on racism, sexism, and brutal oppression. It has surprising links to Preparing the Flute, the animated miniature stage by South African artist William Kentridge, created in 2005, during his work on a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute. The work, which explores history and memory, and the role of Mozart’s Enlightenment opera, is also a work of mourning: in the same year, Kentridge showed Black Box/Chambre Noire at the Deutsche Guggenheim, an exhibition in which he examined the dark side of the Enlightenment, European colonial efforts of the early twentieth century, and the genocide of the Herero in German Southwest Africa. With poetry, beauty and irony, OPERA OPERA penetrates our collective history and our day-to-day lives. It is an artistic homage to the dramas and joys of life.