After an hour at the MAXXI, Rome’s hip modern art museum, I stood on the second level and looked through a long black doorway at the ribbed metal stairs.
But were they really stairs?
An escalator that was out of order?
I was searching for third level. I couldn’t find it
It was there on the diagram, like the promise of Heaven or the “life that will get better when you just get over the present hurdle,” but where?
The Maxxi should be called The Mobius. It’s halls are spacious, tall, and white, all connected so that you wind around beliving you’re going somewhere only to find yourself at an exhibit you’d just seen.
So anyway, there I was at the black doorway. I’d just come down a long white curved hallway for perhaps the third Mobius time. A narrow strip of red light down the center of the ceiling flashed intermittently. I wouldn’t have guessed it. But the red light was flashing the entire story of Cervante’s epic story of Don Quixote—in Morse Code. The artist wanted us to contemplate the first Modern Man struggling against a culture of alienation.
My first reaction muttered quietly aloud was “JSOFBC” (I politely used digital-speak here…a nice used copy of Cervantes to the first person who gets it). “Just read the book F-sake.”
The present exhibit is called Open Rome, Open City.
The lobby exposition told me I was going to explore aspects of the modern city apart from itself in order to understand the whole in more depth. I should experience, participate, and think.
I wasn’t sure how to participate with a red light. Or the sounds. The exhibit was a barrage of sounds. All loud. The lobby was nearly drowning in the dripping and bubbling water—a recording of water movement deep inside Rome’s excavation sites.
Exhibit 1 was massive. Black. A large open earpiece like on an old telephone that narrowed and curved then opened up into an identical earpiece. You could look through but not entirely. The exposition told me this showed that in the twists and turns of life, you can’t always see your way through to the other end. Duh.
Also in this room was a strange pounding. Loud Unfamiliar. A recording artisans pounding on marble the way they used to pound on marble. We live, said the artist, in a world built on changing modes of creation. No shit, Sherlock.
Next, an enormous white space. In the middle of which was a smaller square defined by four lights beaming down from the ceiling. You walk into the square and hear all the sounds of the street—traffic, talking, ambulances, music, walkers, hucksters, cafes, whatever….
Now, I understand it’s probably not enough that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty…” But it doesn’t help to be told that chaos is order, order chaos.”
Maybe I’m old and tired. Maybe I just want too much.
Ah, possibility at the exhibit that filled two spaces with a big wall between them. The idea is that looking down the hall from the empty room, you know someone, something is there. With the zeal of the quixotic, I proceed and found: a big white space with two empty straight-backed chairs, about three feet apart, facing one another. We were supposed to participate. I sat down and waited.
The art didn’t speak to me.
Finally! An exhibit that drew me in: A wide flight of old wooden stairs, all different colors. Real stairs. There were drums and singing from a small black speaker box. It all felt young. Primal. Alive. I believed. At the top of the stairs was a big white square floor. Empty. More colored stairs beyond. I climbed them to find a platform with a tall black speaker booming out the sound of drums. Beneath the platform, a dark hallway that led me...JFSOBC...
back to the hallway flashing Don Morse-code Quixote and that big black doorway with the ribbed metal stairs, and beside it the stair exhibit. I climbed the stairs and sat at the edge of the big white square. The exposition said this square represented places where the Occupy movements occur. The drumming and singing, the rise of The Young People.
Wanting to be a good participatory sport, I tried letting them speak to me.
I wanted to reach out, let them grab me and pull me in. But I was drifting out of reach:
I’ve lived in perpetual war, shocked by those who were shocked by 9/11 and view the terrors of social injustice in our own country mostly on the news. And there’s also the psychological war on poets and other imaginative and visionary souls in an education system that in 1958 focused all its resources on preparing young people to beat the Russians in the Cold War—and as a result of this policy became so narrow in its vision that it lacked the imagination to reform itself in accordance with the great civil-rights movements for peace and the rights of people of color, women, gays, and the poor.
I see children who have lost all historical and creative perspective in their stagnant learning environments. Children becoming unable to look past their digital devices at the marvels of our Earth and the dangers imperiling it.
I see companies like Monsanto and Dow who are determined to own and genetically modify the world’s seeds and to control the world’s food supply. How can that be? Someone owning and corrupting the seeds and our food?
Before American troops invaded Iraq, I was part of of one of the many protest marches around the world.
I knew there were no WMDs. The information was clearly out there.
The Portland march was so long and wide that from the middle of it, I could look across several empty blocks and see the marchers coming on behind me.
Where the hell was that third level?
After wandering around, I saw a woman come out of a door that looked like a utility closet. Ah, the third level. What I found up there was a big black box with a cool digital light screen, not as cool, though, as desktop displays on my MacBook Air. And beyond that was a group of a dozen twenty-somethings planning a performance to support the exhibit. They were doing dance stretches and trying on a bunch of colored pants and shirts scattered among them on the floor.
Reminded me of the sixties.
History and art repeating themselves.
The Empire's New Clothes.
The Empire's New Clothes.
In the end, if memory serves, Don Quixote gave up his glorious quest to redress the world’s wrongs in the spirit of knighthood and chivalry. Returning to his hometown, he’s put to bed with a broken spirit and, having been driven mad by his quest, regains his wits, and takes back his real name—Alonso Quixano. He then renounces his quest and dies, it would seem of melancholy, among the lamentations of friends.
The epic grief of the death of idealism flashing out red in Morse code cycles once every year. Musta been a bitch to time.