Interview with Giovanna Melandri, President of Fondazione MAXXI and Hou Hanru, Artistic Director of MAXXI


MAXXI, the First Contemporary Art Museum in Italy representing 21st Century

What are the arts and which are the institutions that represent them in the twenty-first century? MAXXI is the first national museum devoted to contemporary creativity. It is run by a foundation of which the founding member and promoter is the Ministry for Cultural heritage and Activities.

The MAXXI design goes beyond the concept of the building-museum. As declared by the architect Zaha Hadid, the museum is ‘not an object-container, but rather a campus for art’, where flows and pathways overlap and connect in order to create a dynamic and interactive space. Entering the atrium, the main elements of the project are evident: concrete curved walls, suspended black staircases, open ceiling catching natural light. By these elements Zaha Hadid intended ‘a new fluid kind of spatiality of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry, designed to embody the chaotic fluidity of modern life’.

37 exhibitions, 272 events, 40% more visitors than the previous year. These are just a few of the statistics Giovanna Melandri, President of the Fondazione MAXXI presented MAXXI’s 2013 results.


Interview with Giovanna Melandri, President of Fondazione MAXXI and Hou Hanru, Artistic Director of MAXXI

Q. We know that MAXXI is the first national museum for contemporary art in Italy. There must have been innumerable discussions, ideas and concepts for the first national museum for contemporary art. What is the main concept underlying MAXXI?

Hou Hanru : MAXXI was designed or conceptualized under the influence of the Bilbao effect whereby having a contemporary art museum became a MUST for a country, a national government and the art community. I think we should do more than that and turn it into a truly public institution, or a public sphere, that serves the debate of what a public institution is and the notion of “public-ness” means. How to invent an art institution in this condition through participation of various part of the civic society to continue to preserve the real creative activities and historical heritage is the core concept of MAXXI. More concretely, MAXXI is very closely related to the condition of Rome itself as part of a larger urban transformation project related to the neighborhood, starting with the Foro Italico from the 1920s that marked a period of Italian history: the connection between Fascism and Futurist/Rationalist modernity. The post-war economic miracle symbolized by the new sports infrastructure and the 1990s cultural euphoria, embodied by Renzo Piano’s Auditorium and the continuous political fantasy of having cultural structures such as the new project for the science museum. This condition is profoundly related to the debate of how artistic production and political powers confront each other, and how creation and democracy can interact through a public forum. We must remember that the model of public forum has been core of the Roman society from antiquity till now.

Q. MAXXI, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts, was designed by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and built on former military land on the northern side of Rome. It is well-known that the design process took 4 years and the construction a further 6 years. The same architect designed the Dongdaemun Design plaza in Seoul currently under construction. What is special about the architecture of MAXXI and what meanings do the MAXXI spaces carry?

Hou Hanru : Zaha Hadid’s building is very challenging as it derives from the Bilbao effect and is a typical image of how our world is transforming from stable social democratic modernity to a neo-liberal society. Not only museums, but also urban society and the value of life are being dominated by the capital. The art world as a whole is facing this transformation as well as cultural institutions. The bold design is both an ideological and a physical challenge. It is a neo-liberal fantasy imposed by a generation of architects who have been fascinated by this “newness” of capitalist boom. It is interesting but it presents challenging conditions for artists and for the curatorial team. It imposes constant negotiations with the society of the spectacle and the preservation of the cultural and intellectual integrity of artistic creation. In this condition we understand that we need to work both with the building and against the building.

Q. Since the Museum has opened in May 2010 many tourists have visited MAXXI. What kind of marketing strategies did MAXXI use to draw tourists’ attention? Could you describe some of them?

Giovanna Melandri : At MAXXI we are stubbornly convinced of the centrality of the artistic experience in the lives of all, and for this reason we would like to satisfy everyone.

With around 300,000 visitors in 2013, up by over 40% on 2012, MAXXI reinforced its role as a cultural reference point for Rome, Italy and internationally.From the end of June 2013, its piazza was visited and utilised by around 245,000 people, an average of 1,500 a day, further confirmation of its vocation as a public space open to the city and as a meeting place. With workshops and activities associated with the exhibitions, our education department has attracted over 7,000 young people, adults and children.

In 2013, MAXXI adopted a new promotional strategy reaching out to diverse target groups thanks to the widespread distribution of informative material about the museum at over 150 places of tourist interest in Rome, 28 agreements both with operators capable of involving similar target groups to those of MAXXI and with other cultural operators (other institutions, publishing firms, theatres and festivals) for the coproduction of joint activities designed to reach people not generally attracted by the contemporary.

Moreover, 20 ticket office promotions have been activated on special occasions to incentivize museum visits while the importance of the incoming tourism system has been recognised through agreements with international tour operators specialised in particular in groups from Russia, China, India, the United States and France. The objective is to insert within 2015 MAXXI and its public services in the international catalogues of the principal tour operators.

Q. Korean National Modern Art Museum is now opening branches outside Seoul to expand space. Does MAXXI have any plan to open a branch in another city?

Giovanna Melandri : At the moment, we have no plans to open MAXXI branches around the world; we are a young institution working to establish itself on both the national and international levels.

Q. Is MAXXI sponsored by the city or central government?  What is the general management system of MAXXI?

Giovanna Melandri : MAXXI is the first national museum devoted to contemporary creativity.It is run by a foundation of which the founding member and promoter is the Ministry for Cultural heritage and Activities.

The 2013 budget was in the order of 10 million Euros, of which 60% was state funding. The remaining 40% came from self-financing with a 30% increase in sponsorships and individual fund raising.

In 2013, thanks to renewed spending controls there was a significant redistribution of resources in favour of cultural activities, from 28% in 2012 to 43% in 2013, while overheads were reduced from 72% to 57%.

In the other European countries, state funding of the national museums is greater than that received by MAXXI, but 2014 will be a significant year due to the fact that thanks to the Cultural Value Decree, the museum will enjoy guaranteed state funding of 5 million Euros a year.

In a period of crisis we have placed the public at the forefront, believing that one of our institutional missions is to support cultural consumption with concrete actions such as discounts and promotions.

The challenge that I have taken up together with the board of directors composed of Monique Vaute and Beatrice Trussardi (one of the few boards of directors with a female majority in Italy) is very clear:to demonstrate that MAXXI – a private foundation – is capable of establishing a robust partnership between public and private and an appropriate management model for a major cultural body in Italy.


Q. Does MAXXI have any projects for interacting with society; for example, any regular programs for students or children? If yes, what kind of programs have been organized?

Hou Hanru : We have a very active educational program and a very rich public program that covers many fields –  not only art and architecture but also music, movies and technology. MAXXI has a public space outside the building that has over time become a major platform for activities for the local community. We are working intensively to improve communication of our exhibition program and the collection to the public through diverse activities including collaborations with schools and urban communities and collaborations with other institutions in the city and around the country. For example, we are developing a mobile museum program that takes the collections to different schools.

Q. Looking at the exhibitions MAXXI has staged until now, what exhibition would you particularly like to introduce and why?

Hou Hanru : The MAXXI program has been constructed as an organic system: all exhibitions interact with each other based on serious research on the evolution of creations both in Italy and abroad. The art scene and the architecture scene interact. We have a very interesting collection of contemporary art and architecture with the potential to become an inspiring resource for exploring the questions of our time. The current presentation of our collection under the title Non Basta Ricordare (Remembering is not enough) substantially reflects a new approach to the relationship between the collection and actuality. Understanding the collection and the institution as a starting point for future developments and artistic and architecture creations. MAXXI has also organized numerous projects placing the Italian creative scene in the international context, with close collaborations with other institutions: projects like Indian Highway in collaboration with Serpentine Gallery, or the Michelangelo Pistoletto show in collaboration with Philadelphia Art Museum, exhibitions like Erasmus Effect that shows how the Italian contribution to the global scene has been realized. For the future we are continuing to develop our program in this direction with a deeper understanding the role of Italy in the world in relation to the dynamics of the Mediterranean region. A series of projects will be developed in this sense: the first exhibition of contemporary art in Iran is coming at the end of this year as well as collaborations with Korean institutions.

Q. As the director of MAXXI what is the most important factor in organizing exhibitions?

Hou Hanru : Vision.

Q. Do you know any Korean modern art galleries or museums? Which one do you find most interesting ?

Hou Hanru : Korea has a very active art and architecture scene. The Institutional engagement with contemporary art and architecture are highly dynamic. I personally have worked with many of them: Gwangju Biennale, Busan Biennale, the Samsung Museum of Art, etc while a lot Korean artists and curators are my friends and collaborators. They are all playing important roles on the Asian and international scene today.

Q. How does MAXXI cooperate with other international museums? Are there any projects organized or planned with other contemporary art museums?

Hou Hanru : We are working very closely with other international museums. For this year, let’s just name a few: MOMA New York, Musée d’art modern de la ville de Paris, Istanbul Modern, Red Brick Art Museum in Bejing, Cite’ de l’Architecture and CCA – Canadian Center of Architecture, etc. Almost all our program is related to other international organizations.

Q. MAXXI’s name refers specifically to the 21st century. In your opinion what kind of museums will exist in the 22nd century and what will be their role?

Hou Hanru : Let’s hope there are still museums in the XXII century.


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