Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Rome Journal XIV: the EUR
photograph of il Palazzo della Civilta Italiana by Hallie Cohen
The EUR is not a place where most tourists dare to tread.
It’s far from all the classic tourist sites of Rome, though it's a site in and
of itself, since it’s a relic not of the Roman empire of antiquity, but of the
fascist era and the art and architecture that it spawned. Totalitarianism has
always produced its own esthetics. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, was
a product of Nazism. And if there is one thing that totalitarian art and architecture
share, it’s a love of the ideal. The Guggenheim had two exhibits Italian
“Italian Futurism l909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe” and “Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy andGermany 1918-36” which both demonstrated the nostalgia for classicism that's at
the heart of the totalitarian esthetic. What was remarkable about the second
show was the way in which it crossed ideological lines, showing similar
proclivities on both the left and right. Visiting the EUR you can
see the legacy of the fascist housing and architecture that emerged under
Mussolini. EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma or E42, in that 1942 was
the year of the World’s Fair which was to take place in Rome. The EUR was also meant to be a celebration of 20years of Mussolini’s leadership. The
war intervened and the exposition never took place. Take the B line to the
Magliana stop on the EUR and you will come face to face with one of the most
renowned pieces of EUR style architecture, il Palazzo della Civilta Italiana.
To the untrained eye, it at first seems like a piece of post-modernist
architecture gone wrong. It recalls the garish Huntington Hartford
Museum, which was an eyesore on Columbus Circle, before it was torn down. Built
by the architects Ernesto La Padula, Giovanni Guerrini and Mario Ramone, it was
also known as the Colosseo Quadrata or the Square Colosseum. Floor after floor
of perseverating arches creates an almost nightmarish effect and the
monumentality is heightened by the effect of the heroic statuary that
surrounds the structure. The classical past is deployed in the service of a
totally futuristic world that pays homage to the ideals of order and aspiration
that characterize the fascist state. You can almost see the hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the
architect Howard Roark, walking around on a campus that that would, in fact, provide the backdrop for a number of movies about the fascist era in Italy like Bertolucci’s The Conformistand Rossellini’s Rome, Open City"Uno nuova Roma: L'EUR e il Palazzo della Civilta Italiana" is currently on exhibit in the lobby of the Civilta.
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.