Rome is a city bursting at the seams with ancient architecture and art at every turn. The MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts, is a welcome detour to art of the present age, presented in a unique structure designed by Zaha Hadid. The piazza outside, a modern take on a cultural centerpiece in Italy, provides a community-oriented space that encourages the surrounding area to participate in the museum. A display reading More Than Meets the Eye can be seen on the side of the building, a prompt to really observe, to see something and not just look at it.
Inside, an exhibition of photographs by Paolo Pellegrin shows powerful images from places as varied as the Middle East, Rome, and the United States. It showcases the best and worst of humanity, at tender and tense moments. The photographs are accompanied by no description, just a location and a year. Our group was lucky enough to have a skilled and knowledgeable tour guide in our professor, who intricately explained the meaning behind some of the photos. For example, two of the photos came from Rome, depicting two women from the same Roman family whom the photographer had befriended. They told a story of dignity and humanity that I would not have gleaned on my own but once explained made the exhibition meaningful to me. I believe that this story would benefit all who came to the exhibition, especially young women or Roman people who could relate and feel empowered by these portraits and the story behind them. However, the exhibition alone is not enough to portray this, a tour or additional information is required.
The labeling or lack thereof in an exhibition is a choice made by the curator and/or the artist, one that has consequences on the experience of the visitor. Without labels with lengthy descriptions, the explanation and story are left more to the visitor to fill in with their experiences and interpretations. With descriptions, the artist and curator have more control over what the visitor experiences and gleans from the art, but with a possible side effect of the focus being on the description and not the work of art. With art, there is always more than meets the eye. The question remains of how best to display works – with descriptions and backstory, or on their own, so as not to detract from the art. Regardless of what an artist or curator chooses, there is always a story to be told through art and experiences to share in an exhibition.