An Exhibition in Rome Celebrates The Street

December 11, 2018

The processes of industrialization and urbanization led to an increment of cities around the globe; the infrastructure changed and the streets became perfect settings for expressing not only latest fashion tendencies, manners and wealth, but they also became a public space in which each individual or a community can express their politics. There are few examples of the street upheavals during the interwar period historically related with the attempts of conducting a social revolution; yet it wasn’t until the 1960s that mass movements started protesting on the streets governed by the belief they are going to change the world.

That is when artists started embracing the street as a particular phenomenon; in order to explore the domains of certain socio-political standpoints and practices. Under its roof, the MAXXI Museum in Rome there is now an extensive exhibition dedicated to the matter, titled The Street. Where The World is Made.

Sam Durant - Proposal for Public Fountain
Sam Durant - Proposal for Public Fountain, 2013 © Sam Durant, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

The Streets Are Ours!

The aim of this exhibition curated by Hou Hanru and his curatorial and research team of the museum is to question the formation of modern cities and the role of the streets. By telling the narrative from the 1960s until the present day, the curator is interested in showing that the artists are the ones who perceived the street as the intellectual, social and political battlefield. By taking various radical and rebellious actions, they involved different individuals, as well as communities, offering them new points of view.

The artists articulated that the street as a public space is not only a manmade infrastructure, but also a place intersected by a multitude of meanings due to various visual and physical tools or obstacles such as signs, adds, surveillance cameras, garbage. Therefore, the street can a be perceived as a peculiar combination of manual practices and new technologies and symbolically a manifesto of contemporary life.

More than one hundred and forty artists are represented at the exhibition with more than two hundred artworks spanning from site-specific projects, over performance, to trans disciplinary events. The show is based on the following themes - public actions, daily life, politics, the community, innovation, the role of the institution which is important for understanding the new functions and identity of the modern-day street.

Cao Fei - Hip Hop Fukuoka
Cao Fei - Hip Hop Fukuoka, 2005. Single channel video 7′ © the artist and Vitamin Creative Space

The Selection of Works

The first segment of the exhibition is called Street Politics (Resistance, Protest, Occupy, Manifest, Feminism and the Carnivalesque, etc.), and it shows that the street is not only a place of festivities but an arena of protest and resistance to control by power. It encompasses works of artists such as Andrea Bowers (her drawings and anti-racial protest), Andrea Salvino (the large canvas depicting dark and violent sides of recent Italian history), Marinella Senatore (the feminist collages), Rirkrit Tiravanija (Demonstration Drawings), Kendell Geers (a five-pointed star composed of flashing police cars), and others.

The second segment titled The Good Design (Innovation, Limitation, and Freedom) includes works depicting the street as the ideal place for experimentation with technological innovations related to communication, life, and mobility. Here the works by artists such as Pedro Reyes and Patrik Tuttofuoco (prototypes for a new form of sustainable city vehicles), Carsten Nicolai, Cao Fei, and others are on display.

The following segment titled Community (Immigration, Minorities, Diversity, Love and Living Together) is dedicated to the domains of the street in the context of the contemporary status of commons. The work of the collective Boa Mistura (a wall painted and specially designed for the MAXXI spaces), as well as the videos by Kimsooja, Zhou Tao, Kim Sora, Francis Alys, and Mark Bradford, can be found within this segment.

Next up is the segment Everyday Life (Eat, Work and Exchange, Home/Homeless...). From gold camera made by Halil Altindere, over Flavio Favelli’s neon signs, to a sculpture made up of materials found on the street by Jimmie Durham, these works show how life in the street can reflect the character of marginalization and social exclusion.

The segment The Open Institutions opens a question can a museum adopted characteristics of the street and which is articulated through the works of Simon Fujiwara, Thomas Hirschhorn, Chim↑Pom, and Raphaël Zarka. Mapping (Planned / Unplanned, Built / Unbuilt) is the last segment which underlines the ties between contemporary artistic research and architectural - urban planning. Installations/object by Rosa Barba and Zhao Zhao, as well as the videos by Daniel Crooks, Map Office, and Zhu Jia explore this theme.

Chto Delat - Angry Sandwich People
Chto Delat - Angry Sandwich People, 2006. Video. Courtesy: Chto Delat and KOW Berlin

The Street at MAXXI museum

It is important to mention that this exhibition is practically a finalization of the study which thoroughly analyzed the function and meaning of the street in the last two decades conducted in 2017 for the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture of Shenzhen.

A special catalog-book edited by Hou Hanru and the MAXXI curatorial and research team and published by Quodlibe accompanies the show. It is a mini-encyclopedia consisting of two books, the first one designed as an introductory manual and anthology, and the second composed as visual guide dedicated to the mentioned seven exhibition themes.

Finally, this outstanding showcase is significant in the context of the global political landscape and social discontent currently best expressed on the streets of Paris with Yellow Vest protest. Namely, the street has become an intersection of social, cultural, economic and political currents in each society, so this research-based curatorial concept contributes to a better understanding of our daily lives.

The Street. Where The World is Made will be on display at MAXXI in Rome until the 28th of April 2019.

Featured images: Anna Scalfi - Untitled 2005 (Green Woman on the Traffic Light), 2005. Courtesy the Artist; Abraham Cruzvillegas -The Simultaneous Promise, 2011. Tricycle, speakers, amplifier, battery, metal tubes, mirrors. Courtesy Mima and César Reyes Collection; Halil Altındere - MOBESE (Gold Camera), 2011. Photo murat-german 2011, Courtesy the Artist and PILOT Gallery, Istanbul. All images courtesy MAXXI Rome.