The exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica (“Pompei@Madre. Archaeological Matter“) – curated by Massimo Osanna, Director of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, and Andrea Viliani, Director of Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina of Naples, with the curatorial coordination for the modern section by Luigi Gallo – is based on a rigorous research activity resulting from unprecedented institutional collaboration between the Madre and the Archaeological Park / Pompeii Superintendence, the most important archaeological Italian site and one of the most visited worldwide.
Based on a comparison and discussion of respective research methodologies, disciplinary fields and collections, Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica consists in studying the potential multiple relationships between archaeological heritage and artistic research, creating a dialogue between extraordinary but little-known and rarely displayed archaeological material from Pompeii and modern and contemporary artworks.
The exhibition, presented in a large part of the exhibition spaces of the Madre museum, involves more than 90 modern and contemporary artists and intellectuals, from Johann Wolfgang Goethe to Johann Joachim Winckelmann, from François-René de Chateaubriand to Le Corbusier, from Fausto Melotti and Andy Warhol to Mark Dion, Jimmie Durham, Laure Prouvost, Adrián Villar Rojas, and is divided into two chapters:
Through its inter-institutional structure, Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica reveals and displays the potential links between the various cultural institutions operating, with their own respective epistemic logic, in Campania region and, more generally, in the Mediterranean. Both areas are palimpsests whose natural and cultural biodiversity can be explored critically in the exhibition. The project is therefore designed to be a potential catalyst of a hypothetically integrated cultural, disciplinary and institutional system that creates itineraries in which – through different eras, subjects, methods, disciplines and institutions – it is possible to trace over thirty centuries of contemporary life of Campania Felix and Mediterranean culture. In this sense, the project is the outcome of a “republican synergy” that stems from collaboration between an Italian archaeological site (run by MIBACT) and a regional museum (set up and funded by Regione Campania [regional government of Campania]), in which it is possible to affirm that the entirety of the works, objects, ideas and experiences that make up a piece of cultural heritage is, by its very nature, always contemporary, that the heritage of the past can be experienced not only as a legacy but as a method to refer to in order to understand the present and define the future, as seems to be the claim of the “archaeological matter” excavated at Pompeii over the last two and a half centuries.
The itinerary of the exhibition is therefore conceived and structured as a circular walk among works, objects, documents and tools linked to the history of various excavation campaigns carried out at Pompeii – materials that record the daily life of the ancient city and the role that the arts and sciences played in it – displayed alongside modern and contemporary works and documents from the collections of many different museums and institutions: the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the Polo Museale della Campania and leading Italian and international institutions such as the Biblioteca Nazionale and Institut Français in Naples, the Casa di Goethe and Biblioteca Istituto Archeologico Germanico in Rome, the Fondation Le Corbusier and École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, as well as important Italian and international private collections. Ever since the rediscovery of the site of Pompeii in the 17th Century, each of these works/documents has continued to claim the contemporary importance and inspiration of Pompeian “archaeology”, acting as catalysts between different spaces, times and cultures, leading to comparisons between them. The exhibition therefore combines visual arts, literature, music, theatre and cinema but also historiography, cartography, paleoethnology, anthropology, biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics and genetics, as well as the extensive field of new technologies.
The Italian term “materia archeologica” (“materia” has the double meaning of “material” and “subject/discipline”) may refer to the actual discipline of archaeology (From the Greek term ἀρχαιολογία: ἀρχαῖος, “ancient”, and λόγος, “study”): in other words, the study of ancient civilisations through excavation, conservation, cataloguing, recording and analysis of finds – placed in relation to the context of their discovery – such as architecture, artworks, everyday objects and the remains of organic materials.
However, the fragmentary nature of the objects of archaeological enquiry and the very fact that archaeology has to operate in the present to retrieve the past, according to a process which is also open to intuition and interpretation, suggests a fascinating proximity between archaeology and the contemporary era. In this sense Pompeii represents an extraordinary laboratory, a veritable time machine which, by providing us with the history of numerous materials immersed within the flow of historical and natural time, blurs the difference between past and present, nature and culture, life and death and between destruction and construction.
Starting from the eruption in 79 AD, which led to its oblivion over a thousand years, the rediscovery of the city in 1748 transformed Pompeii into a palimpsest of cultural modernity always open to further experiences and narratives. The story of this material, which is simultaneously both fragile and combative, has enabled Pompeii to remain contemporary, to offer up its own “archaeological matter“ which is material that still remains contemporary today.
By defining historical parallels that range through ancient, modern and contemporary history, the exhibition tells the story of a “discipline” that reveals the reciprocal implication between original materials and works of art made from them, between iconographies, themes and concepts that keep on rising to the surface in the history of art and culture since over two centuries and a half.
The project is co-produced by Madre of Naples with the Parco Archeologico di Pompei. For Madre the exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica (third floor) has been organised, based on the line of action Produzioni (Mostre), with POC funding (PIANO OPERATIVO COMPLEMENTARE) provided by the Regione Campania, while the exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica: The Collections (entrance and first floor) has been organised as part of the project Itinerari del Contemporaneo-Confronti, entirely using POC funding (PIANO OPERATIVO COMPLEMENTARE) provided by Regione Campania. For Madre the exhibitions have been implemented by SCABEC Spa, a cultural heritage company based in Campania, which oversees all the organisational aspects.
The catalogue of the exhibition is published by Electa, which supports as technical sponsor the entire editorial project. The scientific publishing includes texts by Luigi Gallo, Massimo Osanna, Andrea Viliani, together with a visual essay with images and informations of all the artworks, the manufacts and the documents on display.