On a weekend in Italy? Check out the art streets of Rome
It’s €12 Euro to enter the Colosseum; €15 to see Michelangelo’s stunning Last Judgement fresco at the Sistine Chapel; another €15 to see the famous Dying Gladiator at the Capitoline. But the real, uninhibited art experience is on the streets of Rome, and it’s absolutely free.
Every weekend, the no-cars, heritage precinct of the Piazza di Spagna turns into an art gallery / performance space open to the skies. There are no queues here, no rules, guards, frills or fancies; just scores of artists and art-loving spectators from around the world.
Near a fairytale bubble artist that had children and adults enthralled, a man in a T-shirt and jeans sat surrounded by buckets, pans and scrap metal. Onlookers exchanged curious looks, until he rubbed two sticks together, counted to three, and began to ‘play’, never missing a beat. The crowd around him grew, money began to tinkle into his hat. The most moving moment for all of us was when a specially abed child began to dance.
As someone who has reported on art for years, what came next was not just special, it was astounding, and encapsulated the magic of street art in Rome. The man on the drums turned out to be Dario Rossi, a professional musician and a sensation on YouTube. He is known across Europe for using everyday objects as instruments; but he was born right here in Rome, and began his career on these streets. And there he was again, on the street, producing his art for the love of it, happy performing for people who had no idea where life had taken him.
Coming from a dominantly paid-performance and intimidating white-cube (art galleries) culture, I had never known art that was so democratic. Much of the credit goes to the Roman art-lover, who will queue outside a gallery for a special exhibition and, with an equal amount of enthusiasm, circle an anonymous artiste on the streets, cheering and applauding their performance.
The result is a street art scene that is extremely varied, and has an honesty and immediacy to it that is missing in so many arts centres. At some point, for instance, I sat down by the edge of the road, tired from all the walking, and noticed a line of everyday objects — phone charges, USB cables, plastic dolls, kids’ shoes, toys — disappearing into the distance, a tiny messages written on each one. I got up and followed the trail as it wended its way across several street corners, and realised that I was essentially inside an interactive public art installation.
‘Don’t throw me out yet’ read one note, attached on a doll. ‘I am all alone’ read another, on a USB charger. ‘2500 years after’ read a third, pasted to a roll of plastic. There was no exhibition note, nor artist’s name. This was an untitled work that sought no acclaim. Its message was clear. And it addressed you, the viewer, as an equal.
That installation may not have been high art, but it passes an important test, because I still think of it from time to time, every time I’m tempted to swap an old charger for a new one.
On our way home, we walked by a flash mob waltzing on the promenade. They too invited the bystander to dance along. It didn’t matter if you knew the song or the moves. And that’s how it goes on the streets of Rome; everyone becomes an artiste.