As soon as it opened its doors, Rome’s MAXXI (it stands for National Museum of XXI Century Arts) was the subject of divisive debate. In the UK, architectural critic Ellis Woodman said he had never seen a gallery “that addressed its nominal function with such seeming cynicism”. But that didn’t stop it winning the prestigious Stirling Prize. Based in the city’s Flaminio district, the open ambition from the start was to have a project with the same impact of the Guggenheim Bilbao – a piece of architecture that would pull in the crowds, and not just…
Why do it?
Back in 1998, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage decided it needed a museum that celebrated contemporary Italian art and culture. It was also perhaps a little jealous of the then new Guggenheim Bilbao that had made Spain look so good. Sure, Italy had amazing collections but they were all of the dusty variety. For ministers it must have seemed like the perfect tool for projecting a fresher image of Italia; for the art world it would be a chance to catch up with other European capitals. And in the process they would attract young art tourists.
Watch this art space
Critics love reviewing a just-opened play or restaurant, but what is often more interesting is to see how it beds in after a few weeks or months. At MAXXI you are aware of the curators’ courage growing as they make the space work for them. President Pio Baldi says, “This is the innovative museum of the 21st century,” but that point can only be proved over years. And as European museums such as MAXXI face funding cut backs, it will be an increasingly tough challenge.