Robert Smithson. Rome is still falling

site: MACRO Rome (Rome).

In 1961, at the age of twenty-three, Robert Smithson (1938-1973) arrived in Rome for a solo exhibition of religious-themed works at the George Lester gallery.
While in Rome, the artist has the opportunity to delve into the history of the West, especially what he describes as “Byzantine art”, the ideas of archetype, myth, and anthropomorphism, and what he defines as the “facade of Catholicism ”.
This period is also marked by what Smithson refers to as an artistic and spiritual ”moment of inner crisis”.

“Rome is still falling” takes as its point of reference the exhibition at the George Lester gallery by presenting a nucleus of twenty lesser-known early works by the artist, which draw on and at the same time deviate from Smithson’s religious and experimental ideas during his Roman period. The title of the exhibition derives from a letter that Smithson wrote to his wife Nancy Holt while in the Eternal City in July 1961, in which the four words appear in the lower left corner of the sheet: ”Rome is still falling”.

The period preceding 1964-65 is considered by the artist to be “a moment of research, of investigation” and at the same time a phase of transition and development. Smithson states that he ”began to work feeling fully artist around 1964-65. The exhibition therefore presents works created before this artistic “awareness” of his: from representations of the feet and face of Christ and of the fallen Christ, to advertisements and magazine clippings, alternating with themes of religious painting, from winged figures in black ink and pencil, to architectural structures surrounded by words and letters that go beyond any concrete meaning. Rome is still falling also introduces another phase of Smithson’s work: the works on paper that the artist begins later, at the age of twenty-five, in 1963 in New York, in which the religious imagery gives way to figures drawn from comics, erotic magazines and popular culture.

Within the exhibition space, some extracts from Smithson’s writings and poems also give a voice to the artist, to contextualize and frame his relationship with Rome and his obsession with religious and spiritual themes.

Robert Smithson (1938 – 1973) was born in Passaic, New Jersey. While still in high school he attended the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum School in New York. In the late 1950s he moved to New York, where he began to paint, draw and make collages. In 1959 he presented his first solo exhibition at the Artists Gallery. His work includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, architectural projects, films, photographs, writings, Land Art interventions and much more.

24 November, from 18.00 to 21.00

Featured image
Instamatic photograph by Robert Smithson in Rome, 1961, photographer unknown. Courtesy Holt/Smithson Foundation and Nancy Holt Estate Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Robert Smithson. Rome is still falling –