Contemporary Art in Rome’s Ancient Bath House
What’s four tonnes, nine meters tall and lasts nine days? Ai Wei Wei’s La Commedia Umana (The Human Comedy). The short term monumental sculpture hangs from now through April 3rd in Rome in one of the Eternal City’s most historic locations – the ancient Baths of Diocletian, part of the glorious Museo Nazionale Romano circuit.
La Commedia Umana is elaborate, enormous, and epic. It looks like a giant, hanging jungle gym of body parts. But it’s a lot more. Ai Weiwei worked on the sculpture for three years (including one lockdown year, which felt like 100 years) with Berengo Studio, glass artistan from Murano.
Master glass artists made more than 2000 hand-blown glass bones, body parts and other interesting elements which were then hand-placed and fused on a chandelier skeleton frame, creating a monumental hanging sculpture of nearly nine meters in height and six meters wide.
Devil’s in the Details
Consider it a 21st century Capuchin Crypt, quite fitting as we have one down the road. From far away, it’s almost looks like a monstrous black floral arrangement. Up close, it is beautiful and macabre. I spotted skulls, vertebrae, ilium, schisms, ulnas and femurs, as well as intestines, lungs, a few birds and a video camera in a frozen choreograph.
Its placement in the Baths of Diocletian is perfectly dramatic. Hanging off the rafters of a 40 meter high ceiling, the black glass bones glow against the ancient brick walls, and seemingly reach out to the gorgeously restored 80-square-meter mosaic from the Villa of Nero. Take another look at the mosaic, the figures are eerily dancing and the vining flowers decoration seem to extend the greeting back to La Commedia Umana.
Ai Weiwei described La Commedia Umana as “attempt to talk about death in order to celebrate life.” Perhaps that’s why its time in Rome is so fleeting. I don’t care how long I have to enjoy it, just as long as it was here. If you’re in Rome – visiting, living, whatever, you should see come by, walk through the nearly 1800-year-old bath complex and then look up at the sculpture. You’ll probably have it all to yourself.