UTOPIA FOR SALE? A tribute to Allan Sekula – MAXXI

The Forgotten Space – Allan Sekula


UTOPIA FOR SALE? A tribute to Allan Sekula will be open to the public from next Saturday 15 February (inauguration Friday 14, 19.30). This new exhibition has been curated by MAXXI’s artistic director Hou Hanru and Monia Trombetta, with the contribution of the MAXXI Architettura and MAXXI Arte curatorial teams.

Open through to 4 May 2014 in Gallery 5 on the third floor, Utopia for sale? is a tribute to the artist Allan Sekula, who passed away a few months ago. On show, along with Sekula’s works, are videos and installations by Noël Burch, Cao Fei, Adelita Husni-Bey, Li Liao, Amie Siegel; photographs of industrial sites and landscapes from the MAXXI Arte and MAXXI Architettura collections by Bernd & Hilla Becher, Gianni Berengo Gardin, and Libero De Cunzo, which also provide the drawings and images of the Cartiere Burgo paper mill in Mantova designed by Pier Luigi Nervi.

The works on show reflect on the theme of globalization and the circulation of ideas, products and people in an era of whirling social, cultural and economic changes in which the Utopia of monetary power is replacing the Utopia of social good.

“In our time, the idealist and equalitarian projects of social reconstruction represented by projects such as Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in France, or Corviale by Mario Fiorentino in Italy, are now being rapidly emptied, and ideologically, ethically and practically destroyed through their gentrifying transformations and marketization through auctions – says Hou Hanru Artistic Director of MAXXI and curator of the exhibition. – All that remains are relics of ideals and experiments, auctioned off for the monetary profits of a few. This is certainly a key concern in the contemporary production, representation and circulation of art. It is also a typical example of how today’s capitalism operates. The Utopia of monetary power is gradually replacing the Utopia of social good. Is Utopia for sale?”

The exhibition revolves around two works by Allan Sekula, photographer, filmmaker and artist who, with critical realism, explored the contemporary.  The photographic work Fish Story (1989-95) investigates the key role of the ocean as a space of globalization, thinking that is also explored in the documentary film The Forgotten Space (2010) made with Noël Burch:  at the centre is a mysterious container and its workers, the dark side of capitalism, in waters on which 90% of the world’s consumer goods are transported.

The Osram China Lighting factory in Guangzhou with its workers and their daily lives and dreams is at the centre of the video Whose Utopia? (200&) by Cao Fei, a Chinese artist who is investigating the rapid cultural, social and economic changes revolutionizing his country.

The life of the tree-sitters, the environmentalists who in an attempt to halt the process of deforestation lived in suspended villages in the woods of Titnore and Stanton Moore in Great Britain in 2008, is recounted in the video Story of the Heavens and our Planet (2006) by Adelita Husni-Bey, an Italo-Libyan artist who explores themes such as microutopias, strategies of resistance and anti-governmental systems. This work has been acquired for MAXXI’s permanent collection thanks to the donation of the Associazione Giovani Collezionisti.

As part of the exhibition, on the 3rd, 4th and 5th April 2014, the artist Adelita Husni-Bey, in cooperation with the MAXXI  Education Department will curate the workshop Agency – Power Games, realised thanks to the support of nctm e l’arte . A group of high school students will document and simulate the various power relations characterizing capitalist society in this historical moment.

The individual and their position in the social system is at the centre of the research of Li Liao an artist living and working in Shenzhen, China. As is typical of the artist’s oeuvre, both works on show at MAXXI are the fruit of performance pieces. In Spring Breeze (2011), he had himself chained for an entire day to an office building. Consumption (2011) is composed of diverse objects deriving from the artist’s performance in which for 45 days he worked on the assembly in a factory producing the iPad Mini.

The film Provenance (2013) by Amie Siegel highlights how contemporary globalization has “distorted” the Utopias of the past. As with the furnishings designed by Le Corbusier in the 1950s for the buildings in the new city of Chandigarh: conceived as an opportunity for social change, they have now entered the design “pantheon”. The contemporary art system as a integral part of the post-capitalist consumer system is instead the theme of Lot 248 (2013).

A section of the exhibition features photographs from the MAXXI collection, including the blast furnaces in Hannover by Bernd & Hilla Becher, Genoa and its port, the shipyards and the factories portrayed by Gianni Berengo Gardin, the former Italsider works and Bagnoli in the Neapolitan photos of Libero De Cunzo.  Italian and European industrial landscapes immortalised through the attentive and sensitive gaze of artists who testify to the magnificence and Utopia of industrialization as well as its other face, that of failure and abandonment.

MAXXI – National Museum of XXI Century Arts – Via Guido Reni, 4A – Rome
February 15th – May 4th, 2014

My Future is Not a Dream – Cao Fei


Story of the heavens and our planet – Adelita Husni-Bey


Genova 2002 Il Porto – Gianni Berengo Gardin


Spring – Li Liao