Elisabetta Benassi “Empire” at Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps, Rome
From 21 June to 1 September the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps hosts the second stage of the project by Elisabetta Benassi, EMPIRE, winner of the third edition of the Italian Council (2018), the call set up by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Art and Architecture and Urban Peripheries (DGAAP) of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities to promote Italian contemporary art worldwide. The EMPIRE project is promoted by the Museo Nazionale Romano in collaboration with the Pontificia Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon.
Through the recovery and transformation of materials and symbols, the work of Elisabetta Benassi examines the relationship between the past and the contemporary era, questioning the condition and the identity of the present. The project EMPIRE forms part of this research right from the very title, which inevitably evokes the vast and complex story of the Roman Empire and its endless political and cultural evolution.
EMPIRE develops in an installation of six thousand terracotta bricks – especially made in Great Britain using black and violet clay by a brickworks located in the Royal Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire – which have been embossed with the name of the work. In addition to these there are two bricks made of a bronze and gold alloy. On a formal level, EMPIRE reflects the basic building element of ancient architecture, the Roman brick, transforming it into an element with new aesthetic potential and meaning.
The term “empire”, with its varied and contrasting meanings, suggests figures of power and grandeur, and at the same time evokes dark scenes of coercion, domination and submission. Positioned at the crossroads between history and memory, between symbolic and political value, between verbal language and visual experience, with this project Elisabetta Benassi once again reflects on the dialectic relationship between the past and the present. Like a form of device that produces unexpected configuration, the work aims to challenge the idea of an Ancient era that is considered as accepted fact, instead presenting it as a conflicting plot, a form of resistance to the presumed inevitability of the present.
The site-specific nature of the work allows it to be continuously re-designed in accordance with the context and the space it inhabits. Thus, with each exhibition, EMPIRE can evoke fantastic and ephemeral architecture, “castles” or stacks similar to those set up during the brick-drying process, with their fascinating and enigmatic structures, or even three-dimensional labyrinths that can be explored by the spectator, “curtain walls” and structures set out in diversely proportioned ways in order to create a rapport with the context in which the work is placed.
Following the Italian Institute of Culture in London, the first stage in the itinerary, where the installation was presented as a labyrinth, EMPIRE will take on a new form in the courtyard of the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps. The work will then continue its journey to Mostyn, Wales UK, to then reach its final and permanent destination at Museo Nazionale Romano – Crypta Balbi in Rome, at the same time as the documentative exhibition at the Pontificia Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon.
«Part of a wider-ranging process of valorisation through an openness to contemporary art, EMPIRE is a demonstration of the particular desire of the Museo Nazionale Romano to attract a new audience, providing an instrument for discovery and new interpretations which favour a more widespread knowledge of the classic heritage that it holds» says Daniela Porro, director of the museum.
The catalogue published by Treccani Arte, with contributions by Stefano Chiodi, Alfredo Cramerotti and Gurminder K. Bhambra, and graphic design by NERO – Roma, will be presented on the occasion of the installation of the work in its definitive setting at the Crypta Balbi in Rome.
The project EMPIRE by Elisabetta Benassi has been made possible with the support of the Italian Council Directorate-General for Contemporary Art and Architecture and Urban Peripheries (DGAAP) of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities under the direction of Federica Galloni.
It is promoted by Museo Nazionale Romano in collaboration with the Pontificia Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, the partner Italian Institute of Culture in London and Mostyn, Wales UK.
At Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps, Rome
until 1 September 2019