Via Oslavia 39b
Della Vittoria District
Link for booking online: https://www.maxxi.art/en/events/casaballa/
Giacomo Balla (1871–1958) was an Italian painter who worked in Italy and France. He took part in avant-garde movements and wrote the Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe (1915) with Fortunato Depero. Balla moved with his family to 39b, via Oslavia, near piazza Mazzini, in June 1929. The apartment, which comprises a large living room, three bedrooms, a study, a kitchen and a bathroom, became their home. The corridor connects the different rooms, as is often the case in Italian houses (Balla’s apartment was one of several in a large block of flats). The restoration of the house was carried out by the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro from 2004 and the house is now open to the public and curated by MAXXI, the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo.
Balla, his wife, Elisa, and his daughters, Luce and Elica, transformed the house into a work of art, a workshop of sorts in which he experimented with his futurist theories. It is a kaleidoscopic project that includes paintings, home-made tools, sculptures, fabrics, clothes and accessories, ceramics, furniture and wall paintings. Nothing is left uncovered in the house, even electric wires and pipes; and all kinds of fittings, such as wardrobes and ceilings, are decorated or hidden by painted panels. The house became a museum, an ‘intellectual salon’ where visitors went to admire and purchase the artist’s work. Everyday objects, such as tables, chairs, plates and tiles, express Balla’s revolutionary concepts in abstract shapes that explore and emphasise light and movement. Visitors are immersed in this big project that is a masterpiece in itself.
Futurism meant recreating the universe in a ‘total fusion’ in order to make it ‘more joyful’ and to express the ‘universal vibration’ present all around us (Casa Balla: From the house to the universe and back curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Domitilla Dardi). It was not a social movement in the sense that futurists did not have a social programme, but it was an artistic movement, like all the avant-garde groups, that aimed to influence society by implementing cultural changes. Other relevant futurist artists were Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrá and Gino Severini, and there were also poets such as Tommaso Marinetti, who wrote the Manifesto of Futurism in 1909. They merged visual elements and sound in synaesthetic productions that were intended to convey a new, encompassing vision. Balla studied the movement of the body related to space and time in his artwork, which included making videos of a dog walking and of his daughters playing. At first his work was inspired by the Impressionists and Divisionists, but then his techniques developed independently in a revolutionary way. He opposed the establishment of the time and followed socialist ideals, organising gatherings that had a cultural background rather than a social goal. For the artist, life and art merged and might have triggered a real change that would have freed Italy from its past.
Balla’s work is disseminated all over the house, including the kitchen and the bathroom, in which tiles, furniture, ceramics and fabrics were designed by the artist and realised with the help of his wife and daughters. The daughters, who were painters too and whose pictures are on display in their rooms, had a more figurative and traditional approach. Luce’s pictures depict landscapes of parks in Rome, such as Villa Borghese, while Elica, nicknamed ‘cloud catcher’, preferred clouds and flowers. She had a mirror under the window that she used to look at the sky. Balla also produced beautiful lamps, room dividers and ceiling lights. The whole display reveals a willingness to surprise, to build a different world in which art is central. This concept seems to absorb every moment of the artist’s and his family’s existence, like an obsession of sorts. Nothing is ‘natural’ or left to chance; instead, everything is culturally and artistically constructed in a museum space that aims to influence everyday life. Sitting on a designed chair, eating at an originally crafted table with unique ceramics and living in a ‘museum house’ might have left little space for intimacy, but it is also possible that they adjusted their everyday life to their artistic requirements. The Ballas apparently enjoyed it, as the two daughters lived in the house until they died. Today we can experience and admire the exceptional products of their incredible artistic work that spanned and shaped the whole life of the family for decades.
Carla Scarano © 2022.