I haven’t blogged for such a long time. Going to art exhibitions are such welcomed breaks but then in the middle of things, it’s a break that I often put on hold. I spend my time doing other things, translating, writing about development issues and politics and what not, but not about art. Getting to Palazzo Merulana, a relatively new exhibition space here in Rome, and to the limited but impressive Giacomo Balla-exhibit, took some time, but as it happened it was worth it, not just for the strikingly good art I saw, but also for the thoughts that art inspired.
The Balla-exhibition is on the upper floor and the first thing that strikes you, is the contrast between Balla’s work and the lacklustre permanent exhibition downstairs. It’s really like moving from one world to another and if you’re curious about how to distinguish good art from less good, just pass by and spend the 10 euros it costs to get in, you’ll see it. You’ll be blended by Bionbruna, whose light is equalled only by Munch’s Solen, and impressed by the painting of the boxer Primo Carnera.
You’ll want to have a friendly conversation with the girl in Parlano and go swimming with the brimmingly healthy Figlia del Sole. You’ll want to want to make love to all the girls wrapped in sensual red in an innovative four seasons-series, and drink coffee and discuss art with Balla himself in his auto portrait Autocaffè. The only disappointing thing about this exhibition is how small it is. Just as you’re looking forwards to the treasures of the next room, the exhibition ends.
But there’s something else to say about Balla. Art in general has a funny way of intersecting with political developments, and futurism, of which Giacomo Balla was a protagonist, more so than any other genre. More than intersecting, foregoing would be the word. Futurists were the forerunners of fascism, these artists laid the ground for what became a political ideology, only to later be submerged by the politicians they themselves had created and used as a propaganda-tool in their hands. Balla was a futurist par excellence, in all senses.
Leaving whatever one might think of fascism aside, what kept running through my head as I took in the Italian painter’s marvellous works, was how politicians inspired by futurists looked to a future, how they imagined and wanted to create a future. They had visions in other words, and even if I might not agree with the content of that vision, just having one is a good thing. Today’s politics often seems like it’s biting its own tale, as if the power itself has become the means and politics the means to achieve it. The democratic system has been usurped by individuals that, even if they beyond satisfying their own ambitions, might want something good for their fellow countrymen, have no idea how to achieve it.
For that reason, the Balla-exhibition at the Palazzo Merulana, other than leaving you with a distinct feeling of having spent 40 minutes on something rewarding, also leaves you reflecting on the world outside, the contemporary world, contemporary politics – and contemporary art. It’s easy to criticise politicians but what about the artists? Are today’s artists capable, not only of lamenting the world we live in, but imagining and inspiring others to create a different world, a better one?
Certainly, the history of futurism shows what immense powers art can actually have and should be a source of inspiration in that sense.