7. The Azienda Speciale Palaexpo: functions and programmes

The Azienda Speciale Palaexpo: functions and programmes

With the setting up of the Azienda Speciale Palaexpo in 1998, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni assumed a leading role in the cultural activities organized by Rome City Council. It was the first organization on a national scale to be devoted exclusively to culture, with the visual arts predominating. The decision to set up the Azienda was determined by the need to develop a single space within the city area, both as regards its size and its multiple functions, with a kind of autonomy which would guarantee more agile management from the administrative point of view, and, above all, would enable the development and implementation of cultural programmes decided on by the organization.

The work carried out in the last few years has primarily taken into consideration the characteristics of the different spaces, diversifying them, and also the distances between them. Since there is no public reception area, access has been made available, without the need for a ticket, all along the central axis from the entrance to the rear wing where the services are located, (cafe, bookshop, and gift shop), reintroducing the horizontal connection that Piacentini had wanted "from the street to the inside and from the inside to the street", in an attempt to encourage an osmosis between the interior and exterior spaces. The decision to give the different areas a particular character depending on different types of exhibition activity, was of particular significance, and this idea has generally been maintained, where the size of the exhibitions did not require extra space. The monumental floor has been used to stage the large exhibitions of ancient, modern and contemporary art, referred to in the preceding chapter, often interdisciplinary in nature and with a great variety of material or works of art on display.

The upper floor has ideally been divided into two zones: the larger rooms have been used to stage mainly monographic exhibitions (those already mentioned as well as others) or those devoted to a precise central theme such as The face of Christ, organized for the Jubilee year 2000. The smaller rooms on the upper floor, often extended to cover the connecting link between the two parts of the building, have been used with remarkable continuity to stage photographic exhibitions. This has definitely been an innovative aspect in the activities of Azienda Speciale Palaexpo and it has provided a role model for Rome, since photography has now regained a leading role at an international level in the panorama of cultural initiatives and in the interest of the public. There has been a great variety of exhibitions, with personal exhibitions (the first large anthological exhibition by the great photographer Mario Giacomelli shortly before his death; Parigi+Klein; Francesca Woodman. Providence, Roma, New York; Gianni Berengo Gardin. Copyright; Herb Ritts, and many others), exhibitions on avant-garde and experimentation in photography and in relations with the world of art, such as the exhibition dedicated to Alfred Stieglitz and the photographers of Camera Work; and then the great photographers of the Magnum Agency and photo-reportage of decisive events in contemporary society: Magnum, witnesses and visionaries. 1989-1999 - the world through ten years of photography.

Another strongly innovative aspect in the activities of Azienda Speciale Palaexpo has been the allocation of an area devoted to current research in the field of art, often presenting other initiatives alongside the exhibitions, including theatrical shows, dance, musical events, and performances, in order to create a constant dialogue between the different creative languages. This activity has taken place in the areas below the Palazzo delle Esposizioni (which will be enlarged with the restoration work currently in progress), following two main project directions: the first, named Project rooms, was designed  to host exhibitions conceived around particular projects created specifically for that area. Having been inaugurated with an important work by American Sol Lewitt, who covered two rooms with large surfaces of colour, the activity continued over the next two years with a series of installations by already acclaimed or emerging artists, of which specific mention may be made of the work of Luca Vitone dedicated to the city of Genoa, and the work of Botto and Bruno consisting of a large photographic installation, or that of Ugo Rondinone who covered the central fountain and one wall with fragments of mirrors.

The other line of research was directed particularly at how the new technologies and means of mass communication have altered the world of art. Of these exhibitions, the most important was Zero Gravity. Art, technology and new areas of identity, with 13 international artists, which was devoted to these transformations that have been wrought by the new means of communication on the actual concept of art and on ways of working in art.

Finally, still on the theme of technology and widespread consumption, Play. The world of videogames, told the story of the evolution of this technology, presenting its most famous characters and all the fascination and attraction of the stories and images, while involving the public in direct participation. This exhibition brought the activities of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to a conclusion so that the restoration work could begin.