The new director of the Architecture and Contemporary Design department of the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome talks about the new MAXXI. In 5 moves and 13 research pieces

A past of fascination for the theaters of war, above all those of the Colombian armed conflict, and a present of return to his Rome, a city today under attack in different ways: loved, feared and talked about, Lorenza Baroncelli, new director of the Department of Contemporary Architecture and Design of the MAXXI, tells how he set up his mandate.

Starting from the contemporary design collection, on display at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts until 10 March 2024.

These are 13 pieces of research, divided into 5 categories of investigation (also defined thanks to the contribution of Joseph Grima) and chosen to tell the story of current scene of the project.

“The interest of the new generations, now widespread throughout the peninsula - see the work of Bloc Studios or Architetti Artigiani Anonimi -, is defining a new geography of design experiences no longer attributable to Brianza alone, the traditionally recognized homeland of Made in Italy.

A paradigm shift that sees the territory as the protagonist and that no institution is sifting through. As if the reflection and the scope of innovation that this generation is moving were not sufficiently authoritative", states the director with the determination of someone who has every intention of broadening the curatorial depth.

"The point of view we propose is a 'lateral' change of scale, which analyzes numbers less and observes values more, looking at the Mediterranean as a horizon for dialogue and at the international scenario as a discussion table" , a reflection also shared by president Alessandro Giuli.

“It is sufficient to move beyond our national borders, to cross the threshold of universities, not only European ones, to realize that the youth creative scene is much more complex and multifaceted than the snapshot given by manuals and permanent collections”, Baroncelli points out, “the definition codified by Tomas Maldonado in 1961, with all due respect, it should be updated: today by design we can no longer mean only 'industrial' design, but necessarily also 'industrial',  'collectible', 'digital', 'experimental' and 'anonymous'”, the above categories.

Some examples: the work of Stef Fusani and Maximilian Marchesani for the 'collectible' dimension; that of Formafantasma and rehub for the research of new materials, the case of the FPM-E mask, ethical testimony of anonymous design, the Trattoria chair by Jasper Morrison for Magis to introduce the theme of large numbers”.

Industrial? "Yes. But above all Mediterranean", because it is a tribute and metaphor of an all-Italian conviviality.

“There is no permanent collection of contemporary design on display today”, because it goes without saying that a dozen pieces are not enough to provide a credible snapshot of the state of affairs.

“But on display there is the first of a series of acquisitions that MAXXI is promoting: what we will leave at the end of our mandate, in 5 years, is another history of the discipline, mapped from 2000 onwards”.

Furthermore, "the Roman institution is subject to the constraint imposed by the superintendence which protects the indivisibility of the collections: if it were to ever cease its activity, the corpus of objects would return in its entirety to the hands of the Ministry, maintaining the strength of its testimony unchanged. ”.

All this is already being discussed in Milan, but the fact is hardly surprising. There is a passage from the article, published on 22 April 2019 in the Foglio, in which Michele Masneri writes (about her): 'Right arm of the starchitect (ed Stefano Boeri), stray life, architect, but also a bit political, as well as curator. But let's be clear, there is only one thing that interests you: are you a Roman at the basis of Milan's rebirth?'

Today one might wonder if the reverse also holds, that is, if at the basis of the rebirth of the MAXXI in Rome there is a Milanese (by adoption): "Today in Rome I have my family, a partner and a son. The Capital, in its daily chaotic rhythm, belongs to me and I belong to it. I feel at ease here”, states without regrets the one who combined the architecture of Giovanni Muzio with the multisensory skatepark of the South Korean artist Koo Jeong A.

That with 'Carlo Aymonino. Loyalty to betrayal', said one of the most outspoken protagonists of Italian architecture. And that, in times of Covid, she duetted online with Mamhood, Carlo Cottarelli and Enrico Mentana. Three different curatorial declinations, all complementary, which attest to how creative irreverence is a form of intelligence useful for breaking habits: the challenge as a tool to shake intellectual consciences and engage the public.

“The museum has always dealt with the staging of art and architecture”, says the curator, “I feared the constellation of objects would get lost in the monumentality of Zaha Hadid's sign, but instead they found their balance, surprising me”, not it is certainly by chance that the 13 acquisitions found the right space in the gallery 2 of the MAXXI.

The impetus towards the contemporary impressed by Baroncelli at the MAXXI therefore appears vigorous: "Rome is a difficult place, the debate, more than the arguments, lacked direction", today the subversive pressures from below are being felt, who knows if they will have the strength to break down constraints and clichés to explore new cultural paths.

“Making the protagonists of contemporary architecture reflect on the great themes of the twenty-first century is my second objective,” concludes the director.

I would like to bring the big names of the project into contemporary issues: from the movement of architecture towards technology, passing through the city of Rome and the rereading of the great historical archives”, which figures are you reflecting on? the director is not known at the moment.

“What is certain is that my task will be to ferret out the celebrities of the mother discipline, get them out of the comfort zone, to give them back to the world in a new form of dialogue”. The end of the self-celebratory model of starchitects is the beginning of a new era. And the challenge of Lorenza Baroncelli.