Views of the exhibition. Photos Yves Bresson, MAMC+, 2015.
LA FONDATION VOLUME ! (THE VOLUME ! FOUNDATION)
La Fondation Volume! (The VOLUME! Foundation) has existed as a cultural organisation in the heart of the Trastevere district of Rome since 1997. The foundation’s spaces are located on the ground floor of a 17th-century building near the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere and the Villa Farnesina – the latter is well known for its Renaissance frescoes. Thanks to the support of a group of Roman intellectuals, the foundation quickly became a venue for artistic experiment.
As a matter of policy, artists are given a completely free rein with the spaces; the architectural space itself being integrated into the creative process and completely redefined each time according to each different artists’ projects.
Since the foundation’s opening, artists have been invited to develop their research by occupying the spaces and doing what they will with them. They are supported in this by a publication and a large public exhibition. Some are from the international contemporary art scene, others left their mark on Italian art history during the period between 1980 and the present day – from the Transavantgarde1 movement to the most recent contemporary work2. Wonderful encounters between the generations have resulted.
Many of these artists have an approach that questions the relationship to the space and the architecture. Others, whose work is concerned essentially with the image, have done works for Volume! that have been milestones in their career. There are layers upon layers of painted works and installations that have created the memory of the venue and fashioned the architecture itself.
Lóránd Hegyi, director of the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne Métropole and a member of the academic committee of Fondazione Volume!, writes: ‘Fondazione Volume! reminds me of the heroic days and venues of the avant-garde in modern art – Herwarth Walden at the Sturm-Galerie in Berlin, for example. He was a gallery owner and, at the same time, a publisher, a promoter of expressionism and Cubism, a great defender of literature and modern art, and the organizer of countless exhibitions, discussions, conferences and encounters with artists.3
'PASSAGES', THE EXHIBITION
The Museum presents, for the first time outside Italy and in a public museum, the works of several of these artists. The intention is to open up the fruit of those years of work at the Fondazione to a wider public and to bring to our notice this model of contemporary sponsorship.
Unlike the spaces of Fondazione Volume!, the architecture of the Museum was conceived, when it was built in 1987, as a very spacious ‘White Cube’4 able to accommodate huge works. The very high ceilings and vast exhibition spaces have meant that, in order to exhibit works originally created for the confined spaces of Volume!, a total rethink has been required.
For this exhibition, the curators decided on a scenography that would allow an individuated reading of each work while still allowing them all to coexist in the same space. As a result, 28 modules have been created to house 28 personal artistic worlds. A trail, indicated by layers of bark on the floor, leads the visitor from module to module in six exhibition rooms (see the floorplan appendix). These modules amount to a mise en abyme in the exhibition venue. They are differentiated according to the works displayed, in terms of dimensions and orientation. Architectural elements which were present in the Volume! spaces have been reconstituted in the modules if they were an integral part of the artists installation - for example the little niches which seem to be held up by Michele De Lucchi’s columns.
As Francesco Nucci, founder of Volume! explains, ‘I was wondering how to resolve the problem of occupying such an immense museum space when the idea of a village came to me. It seemed like the only way to give an account of Volume! was to imagine the Museum as something like an enormous brain, full of vague, slightly faded, incomplete memories of what had happened.’5
The modules are in the form of archetypal individual houses, a device which moves the exhibition space in the direction of living space: the work inhabits the space, sometimes even generates it (as in Pedro Cabrita-Reis’s work, for example). The visitor then penetrates the space of the work and perhaps even takes a turn at inhabiting it for a while.
To do this, the visitor has to cross a threshold, which is both real and symbolic. The entrances for visiting the works in each module have been arranged to give a sense of private, intimate space. The visitor leaves his own world and becomes immersed in one artistic world after another. The passage from one module to another and from one work to another refers to the title of the exhibition. Lóránd Hegyi explains the Volume! spaces thus: ‘This movement through dark, narrow rooms often takes on a metaphorical sense: it could be interpreted as a way of conditioning the mind or as a slow separation from the outside world.’6
The trail is not chronological. It has been designed to throw light on the diversity of the different Volume! artists’ creative practices, and as a sign of the very great liberty which they enjoy there. As Roberta Pucci from the Fondazione Volume! explains, ‘[…] We have taken great pains to make the transversal character of Volume! clear. These international artists are of different ages and with different backgrounds; they work with different materials and in different genres – painting, sculpture, video, performance and installations. […] At Volume!, variety is the key word; variety is the artistic representation of freedom and that is the most important thing for us.’
(1) Trans-avant-garde: an art movement that swept through Italy in the late 1970s and 1980s. The term was coined by Italian critic Achille Bonito Oliva and means ‘beyond the avant-garde’. It marked a return to figurative and narrative painting. One of the principal artists was Mimmo Paladino.
(2) For example the Scuola di San Lorenzo or New Rome School formed by six artists including Giuseppe Gallo, Nunzio di Stefano, Gianni Dessi and Pizzi Cannella, who shared studios.
(3) Volume! 1997… Today, Silvana Editoriale, 2015.
(4) The notion of the White Cube was first used and theorised by Brian O’Doherty to describe an ideal exhibition space: white, clean, without shadows, and which from the outset was intended to guarantee the autonomy of the artwork.
(5) Volume! 1997… Today, Silvana Editoriale, 2015.
(6) Volume! 1997… Today, Silvana Editoriale, 2015.