Monday, 7 May 2007

High art and low jinks

Just a few words about the Beckmann opening last Thursday at the Casa di Goethe. To be honest, I barely saw the opening itself, merely its buffet and bar in the rather lovely courtyard within the palazzo,complete with luxuriant large-leafed plants and precarious fish pond -- its precariousness having everything to do with the numbers of people and amount of available prosecco and nothing at all do with its position. As the buffet and bar are the heart of every opening, without which one may as well simply visit to look at the pictures, this was a great success. Though I did catch a glimpse of a drawing of a woman's head done in a classical style that made me wonder whether Beckmann had lifted that single unbroken sculptural line approach to classicism from Picasso or if they'd both dipped their nibs, or engraving tools, into the same wine-dark stream. And I certainly will be visiting to look at this and the other pictures in the next week or so.

After the opening, it was across town to Villa Almone, the home of the German ambassador, if home isn't too unassuming a word. The house is just outside the Aurelian walls, a stone's throw from the Baths of Caracalla, on the road that leads to St Paul's outside the Walls. It must once have been very lovely, sloping down into the first taste of Roman campagna, heading off to what will eventually be Ostia
and the sea. Now, it's a dual carriageway, lined at the bottom of the hill with office and residential blocks, with no more than a couple of hundred yards of still cultivated country to the left as you leave the city, weirdly surviving and reaching out south-east towards the Appian way. The house is hidden behind a high wall, guarded by the usual armoured vans, I imagine, although last Thursday night the only security visible was a Neapolitan who tried, with considerable charm, to pick up Maika.

As far as I could see, the house is a splendid mix of functional 1930s architecture and quotations from its environment. It's built in the long thin bricks the Romans used, with the series of arches of the city walls reproduced in miniature to create a portico between the house and garden. Like the bricks, the house is narrow and wide, a row of reception rooms running parallel to the road outside. The food was in the last but one to the left. It wasn't wonderful ... as someone remarked, Porsche, which had sponsored the event, could have tried a little harder, or been a little more German: the seafood risotto and cold fusilli smacked slightly of one of Marie Antoinette's cake displays. But the walls of the rooms had a series of oils by one of my favourite 'degenerate' artists, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, late work admittedly but vibrant and dark and utterly unexpected. (The illustration above is of the same period, but far less thrilling.) The chandeliers were modern and hung at least two metres from the ceilings, the sofas were plentiful and the garden was just the kind I like, brilliantly lit, symmetrically arranged around a central lawn, a semicircular hedge at the far end framing a magnificent cycad.

We managed to grab a table and comfy garden chairs at the far end of the portico, where we behaved in a fairly seemly manner, going off in turns to gather food as our forefathers must have done, scavenging bottles of perfectly drinkable white wine. It wasn't until the ambassador began to close the windows behind our heads and his wife employed her physique du role to suggest we leave that we realised how unused we all were to these diplomatic niceties. Hasty goodbyes, some raucous laughter in the hall and drive outside, no sign of the Neapolitan, which was certainly a good thing.

And so to bed.

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