- 2007 Exhibition at the Exedra Hotel in Rome -

Romans Embrace Roy’s Art

The Roy Lerner exhibition at the Exedra Hotel in Rome started with a gala dinner the night before the exhibition at the home of world-renowned model Mirella Petteni and her husband Roberto Haggiag. A few select collectors attended it from Italy and Belgium. It is thrilling to know that Roy's work is now included in their collections consisting of paintings by Bruegel the younger, Renaissance Masters, Picasso, Miróhi, Matisse, and more.

The title of the show is "Ten Years of Great Paintings." The opening was on February 20th at the Exedra Hotel, with a press conference and media event earlier that day. Writer, curator, and professor Karen Wilkin acted as translator, and explained in Italian Roy's history, process of painting, and use of special materials to the press. An essay on Roy’s work by Ms. Wilkin, translated into Italian, was included in the press kit. Italian movie actresses, models, and rock stars like Zucchero Fornaciari, as well as prominent writers and painters showed up to be photographed with Roy. 550 people attended the opening, and the largest paintings sold immediately at record prices. There was feverish enthusiasm in the exhibition hall at the Exedra Hotel. A few collectors fought for the privilege of purchasing certain paintings. The night ended with another gala dinner at the home of Roberto Haggiag junior. The exhibition came down on March 30th, and was organized by the Contemporary Arts Society (CAS), Barbara Pedini, and Morgan Morris. Next month, CAS is opening a gallery in what was formerly Giorgio Armani's studio in Rome to exhibit about a dozen paper pieces for a more intimate variation of Roy's larger work. The CAS gallery is located at Via del Babuino, 127, 00187, Rome.

Following the Rome show, there will be a second and different exhibition planned for Verese, Italy in April. The exact date will be announced soon. Verese is a small city north of Milan in the foothills of the Italian Alps. There will be 3 more planned openings; Nice in June, Budapest and Prague in the fall.

A book covering Roy's career from inception to the present is in the works and is planned to come out for the opening of the Nice exhibition. The book will include photographs of select paintings from the past 30 years, excerpts from a Roy Lerner interview, and essays by Karen Wilkin and the prominent Italian curator and art historian Laura Cherubini, who writes for the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.


The Exedra Hotel is located at Piazza della Republica, 47, 00185, Rome. For lodging information for this exhibition and upcoming European exhibitions, please visit www.boscolohotels.com.

To contact the Contemporary Arts Society for information on European exhibitions, please visit or email Barbara Pedini at barbara@contemporaryartssociety.com or Morgan Morris at morgan@contemporaryartssociety.com.

All European exhibitions have been organized by Contemporary Arts Society, and sponsored by Gruppo Boscolo Hotels, Pirelli RE, and Banca Intermobiliare di investimenti e gestioni S.p.A.

Please visit often, as updates are frequent.
Click on a thumbnail to view an enlarged photo from the exhibition at the Exedra Hotel in Rome, 2/20/07
Karen Wilkin's Letter on Rome From The Hudson Review:

Dear H,

I’m in Rome because of an exhibition by Roy Lerner, an American abstract painter whose work I’ve followed for many years. I’m traveling with the artist, his wife Patty, and their daughter Yvonne, invited partly because of my history of attention to the artist’s work, mainly because I’m fluent in Italian. It all started when Morgan Morris, the bright, ambitious American-born half of the Contemporary Arts Society, with whom Lerner is showing in Rome, asked permission to use a catalogue text I’d written for one of his New York exhibitions and I insisted on seeing the translation. An Italian-speaking New York critic enthusiastic about Lerner’s art seemed like a useful ally to their effort to introduce the painter to Rome—he has shown a good deal elsewhere in Europe and already figures in some Roman collections, but this is his first exhibition in Italy. It took very little to persuade me to join the festivities, although I suspected it would be a very different kind of trip than my usual sojourns in the city.

It’s Roy’s second trip to Rome, Patty and Yvonne’s first. Since I lived there for several years and have returned many times, I am cast as cicerone more than as accompanying art expert, but the role is irresistible. Driving in from the airport on a milky February morning, on the brink of spring, with the sun trying to break through low clouds, I’m exhilarated, as always, at being back. As always, too, I’m depressed by the encroachment of industry and over-designed apartment houses on what’s left of the Roman campagna, but the landscape is so powerful that you can still glimpse traces of what Poussin and Claude Lorrain must have seen when they rode out of the city to draw the countryside along the Tiber: flashes of river, thickets of trees, and sheer cliffs of tufo. But it’s all compromised, embedded in shoddy buildings erected in the last two decades or so. “What’s that?” Patty asks, startled by a pretentious exercise in skewed geometry and shiny tiles. “That’s what happens when 18,000 people are enrolled in the University of Rome’s faculty of architecture,” I tell her. We spot the “honeycomb” building in EUR, wrapped in scaffolding for restoration, but still recognizable from its role in Fellini’s vision of the city. The driver, provided by our hosts, takes a scenic route. We pass the vast sprawl of San Paolo fuori le Mura and enter the walls at Porta San Paolo, skirting the strangely compressed, narrow pyramidal tomb of Caius Cestius. We swing by the ancient racetrack, the Circo Massimo, past the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, and climb the Esquiline Hill, passing the vast, multilayered pile of Santa Maria Maggiore, swinging around the curving steps leading up to its apse. I answer questions, point things out, offer snippets of history. “You’re a good guide,” the driver says, when I compliment him, in Italian, on his making the trip such an appealing and informative one. “You know a lot more than I do.” “I’m sure I don’t,” I tell him, “but I’m an art historian with an architect husband, and I lived here for almost four years, so I know about some things.” “Si capisce,” he replies. Then we turn into Piazza della Repubblica, that vast circle, with its overwrought nineteenth-century fountain, the dull brown brick ruins of Diocletian’s Baths on one side and the vast curving arcades of a white neoclassical palazzo on the other. The palazzo is now a hotel—our hotel. “We’re staying HERE?” Yvonne asks, incredulous. It’s not my part of Rome—I lived in the heart of the historic center, across the street from the Pantheon—but I’ll be able to adapt, at least to the elegance and comfort, if not to the neighborhood. 

Roy’s works are to be installed in the hotel itself. The palazzo chapel, with its elegant curving apse punctuated by flat pilasters, is now part of the lobby, and the exhibition is to be held there. Since it would be impossible to hang on the elaborately articulated walls, the Contemporary Arts Society has engaged an inventive young female architect to devise a freestanding display system: open rectangles made of narrow stainless bars, cross-braced by wires in tension, from which the paintings can be suspended, with up-lights in the bases and projecting lights above. All things considered—such as those overwrought apartments on the way in from the airport—the frames are pretty straightforward, and the hotel management seems excited about hosting an event with real cultural credibility. It’s going to take a while to assemble everything, so I take my charges for a walk. Across the piazza, the big Michelangelo-designed church, built into the caldarium of the baths, is open. The Lerners are properly impressed by the immense space, the elaborate marble-clad walls, and the acres of Counter-Reformation imagery over the altars. I’d have preferred to start with the quintessential High Baroque extravaganza, Bernini’s Coronaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria, with its swooning Saint Theresa and its smiling androgynous angel with the golden arrow, watched by Coronaro family members in “boxes” on the side walls. It’s just down the street, but it’s not yet four p.m. and most Roman churches are still closed. Instead of losing ourselves in Bernini’s ravishing excesses, we walk down dreary Via Barberini, all airline offices and banks; I’m embarrassed that “my” city isn’t more alluring, but the Lerners are entranced by the orange trees lining the curving street, with their shiny leaves and abundant glowing fruit, and their enthusiasm makes me see the neighborhood in a fresh light. When we return to the hotel, we’re excited to see that several of Roy’s paintings are already installed, transforming the space. Things are looking up.

Things look up even more that evening. One of Roy’s collectors and his wife, called “the most beautiful woman in Italy” by Bernardo Bertolucci, have invited us for dinner to their elegantly pared-down, quietly luxurious apartment on the Quirinale. It’s a simple little sit-down affair for about twenty. The crowd is multi-lingual, in honor of the English-speaking guest of honor, and I switch languages so often and so rapidly that I lose track. When I answer a question put to me by a guest from California, he looks blank and says “I don’t speak Italian”; then it’s my turn to look blank. White-gloved camerieri offer wonderful things to eat and drink. Our skillful hostess makes sure the conversation is fast and wide ranging. Our host is connected with Cinecittá, so there are lots of fascinating anecdotes about the film world; “I’m sorry,” our hostess says about a celebrated figure of the 1970s, “but she’s stupid. Beautiful but really stupid. Her sister was the smart one.” (The Italian-speaking contingent nods wisely at this pronouncement, and my new friend from California demands a translation.) My attention keeps wandering to a couple of Breughels and a big, very creditable sixteenth-century Venetian painting on the far side of the room. Our host takes Roy off to show him where one of his pictures is installed and the painter returns looking stunned. “He’s got a room full of Picassos,” he tells us later. It’s pouring when we leave, and we all get soaked, but the evening was so heady that no one minds.

Next morning, before the press preview, I visit the Bernini chapel and spend a happy hour in this paradigm of Baroque theatricality and opulence, marveling at the way the heavy, roiling folds of Saint Theresa’s robe function as an equivalent for her transported state; only her delicate hand, a limp bare foot, and her upturned face hint that there’s a body underneath all that agitated cloth, yet despite this literal “disembodiment,” the equivocal angel and the even more equivocal expression on the saint’s face suggest something quite different than religious ecstasy. I become aware for the first time that the patterns on the marble panels flanking the central group echo the shapes of Saint Theresa’s robe and the angel’s uplifted wing. I leave, feeling absurdly pleased to have noticed.

The press event is strenuous. I talk with a seemingly endless stream of mostly very savvy fellow critics about the relationship of Roy’s brash, exuberantly colored paintings, with their energetic gestures and rich textures, to the tradition of American all-over abstraction. I discuss his fusion of the legacy of Pollock with non-literal allusions to the contemporary vernacular—the media, backlit signs, plastics, TV screens—and, fresh from my encounter with Bernini’s “multi-media installation,” I even make a case for the richly inflected, extravagant hues of Roy’s acrylic palette being a kind of neo-Baroque. It gets more difficult when I’m asked technical questions about transparent gels, iridescent paint, mineral inclusions that refract light, and all the state-of-the art aspects of the artist’s materials, but somehow, I manage, using a lot of similes. The word for the mineral “mica” escapes me, and I’m reduced to describing layered, friable, shiny rock. This eventually produces a look of comprehension, but when I ask what this remarkable substance is called in Italian, I’m told “Non lo so.” (I later discover that it’s called “mica,” pronounced MEE-kah.) Roy keeps being carried off by the formidably chic PR person to be photographed in front of his paintings with TV and film notables, none of whom I recognize. The biggest excitement of the morning comes when a pop idol known as Zucchero —sugar—turns up. He and Roy chat for a while, and when the artist reports that he’s been invited to attend Zucchero’s next New York concert, the PR woman looks genuinely pleased for the first time.

The opening is an astonishing success. At least five hundred people, we are told later, attend. There’s real enthusiasm for the art, which means people are responding to the works themselves, not to hype. While Lerner is a critically well-regarded, admired painter, respected by his peers, with a strong following among collectors, he’s not an art star—he’s never been featured on the cover of Flash Art nor is he likely to be. But the distinguished critic from Corriere della Sera, a perceptive, well-known art historian, seems very taken with the work—from our conversations, it seems clear that she really understands both its context and its originality—and six of the nine pictures on view are already spoken for; several collectors, I’m told, are competing for one lyrical, edgy green painting. I’m kept busy translating, but I manage to speak with a few friends who’ve braved the crush, and to take note of the clothes. Stiletto boots are the shoe of choice, often worn with tight pants tucked into them, as here, but Roman women are wearing skirts more often than they used to. Many more of them have gone blonde than when I lived here, and there’s as much Botox as in Texas, plus the occasional overdose of collagen. There’s less black than in the New York art world and, generally, more elegant evening clothes than you’d see at a Chelsea opening—or are those hyper-fashionable women going on to something more glamorous?

I see many of this soignée crowd later, at a post-opening buffet dinner at the Parioli apartment of the significant other of Barbara Pedini, Morgan Morris’ partner in the Contemporary Arts Society. An enormous, beautiful Lerner dominates the dining room, more than holding its own among an interesting, quirky selection of Italian moderns and a few contemporary pieces. The real tribute to the power of the Lerner, however, is that it competes with the views. It’s a chilly evening, but everyone keeps going out on the generous terrace to admire the panorama of the magical city below Parioli’s leafy hills. (Some of them are going out to smoke, but that’s another matter.)

The next day is Yvonne’s twelfth birthday, and we celebrate with a long lunch with Morgan and her Italian lawyer companion in a trattoria in the historic center. We ignore the menus and have earnest discussions with the padrone about what’s available and how we want it prepared. Do you advise the artichokes? Alla romana? It’s a typically Roman approach to eating and, I suspect, rather boring for the birthday girl, but she is charmed when a special dessert arrives in her honor.

After lunch, we walk down the Via del Babuino, inspect the Contemporary Arts Society’s new gallery space, and then split up. Roy and Morgan will see about a group of his works on paper that have just arrived, and I will resume guide duties for Patty and Yvonne. First: Santa Maria del Popolo, in the vast, oval Piazza del Popolo. It’s not yet four and beginning to drizzle, so we shelter in the arches of the gate and admire the great, harmonious piazza, with its trident of radiating streets and its celebrated pair of almost identical churches. The traffic that once filled the piazza has been banished—as it has in much of the center of Rome—and the damp air seems fresh and spring-like. Only a few years ago, the fumes of cars and buses made it almost impossible to walk down the Corso; things are looking up, indeed. The church opens, and we head for Caravaggio’s early masterpieces, The Crucifixion of Peter and The Conversion of Saul, brutal dramas enacted by massive figures, in blazing light, against indeterminate dark voids—two of the most disquieting and potent images in the entire history of art. The Crucifixion is like a demonstration of how to raise a heavy cross with a vigorous, bald-headed old man nailed to it. A kneeling figure in the foreground strug- gles to take the weight on his shoulders, while Peter wrenches himself upwards to glare balefully at someone outside the canvas. The ecstatic Saul, lost in his transforming vision, echoes Peter’s inverted pose, oblivious of the massive horse that all but fills the canvas; equine and human limbs are entwined, visually, with thundering complexity. The ancient church is stuffed with important works—including Annibale Carracci’s powerful Assumption of the Virgin, almost as monumental as the Caravaggios that flank it—but it’s Yvonne’s day, so we set off for the shops of Via della Ripetta, the tine of the trident that leads to the river.

We pay attention to the elegant shoe and jewelry stores, but my ultimate goal is Richard Meier’s controversial new enclosure for the Ara Pacis, near the Tomb of Augustus. The building looms white and enormous, completely out of scale for the neighborhood. The building is at once undistinguished, alien, and disturbingly at home among the Fascist-era buildings that enclose the rest of the piazza. It’s better from inside; the skylit, glass-walled main space bathes the Augustinian monument in form-revealing light, making the reliefs of figures in religious procession seductive and legible, but the view of traffic rushing past on the roadway flanking the Tiber is disconcerting, to say the least. A time line illustrated with Roman portrait busts is effective, yet the whole seems bombastic and unnecessary. To recover, we head for my favorite glove shop, off Piazza San Silvestro. The three of us more or less fill the tiny space, its walls lined with boxes of gloves. I make my selections, some as presents and some for me, with the usual lengthy conversation with the women behind the miniscule counter—reminiscences about gloves bought in the past, and more; they boast that the store has been there since the 1920s. Patty finds gloves she likes, too, and Yvonne chooses a pair in a delicious pink kid, fascinated by the whole process of putting her elbow on a little pillow and letting the commessa pull them on her hand. The saleswomen are delighted to learn it’s Yvonne’s birthday. “You can come back every year, and each time you will find a new color,” they tell her. “We will always be here.”

Our last day is devoted to serious tourism, starting with the Sistine Chapel—neither Roy nor I has seen Michelangelo’s Last Judgment since its recent cleaning and we are eager to discover the late masterpiece, on the end wall of the chapel, the embodiment of terribilitá, in its new incarnation. I insist that we leave at what the Lerners consider to be an indecently early hour, but I’m vindicated when, ten minutes after our arrival, the line behind us stretches out of sight. En route to the Vatican, we passed the Ara Pacis, and I asked the taxi driver what she thought of the Meier building. Her analysis was so trenchant and voluble that I suspected her of having been one of those 18,000 architecture students: “Frankly, I think it’s very ugly and misconceived for the location. It’s good from inside—have you been in? The light is very good. But the scale is wrong and it’s too rhetorical. Have you been to the Parco della Musica? [I had, on a previous visit—Renzo Piano’s trio of concert halls near the Ponte Milvio.] Now those are GOOD modern buildings and the acoustics are good, too. Of course, we’re used to ugly new buildings in Rome. There’s a new hotel near the Vatican that recently changed its name, but it’s still just as ugly.”

I recount all this to the Lerners as we wait to enter. Once inside, I lead a mad dash straight to our goal, ignoring other temptations. The chapel is already mobbed, but fierce men keep saying “Silenzio!” and it helps. The Last Judgment, cleaned, is a revelation, with the articulation of the figures as eloquent as in Michelangelo’s ferocious late drawings, the heroic Christ in the center somehow even more implacable, his repudiating gesture even more definitive and final. We hold our ground as waves of tours come and go, reveling equally in the familiar images on the ceiling—the controversy over their cleaning now seeming inexplicable—and in the newly expressive images on the end wall. Finally, we can crane our necks no longer. We take a break in the welcome sunshine of the nicest day we’ve had yet, in the gardens of the courtyard, then head for the Pinacoteca. It’s far less crowded than the chapel, but far from empty. We’re shocked that people are using flash cameras while the guards stand by and say nothing. I ask one of them about this, and he shrugs. “We don’t have the right to confiscate the cameras, so they ignore us, and there’s no point in saying anything.” Only in the room with Caravaggio’s solemn, staggeringly powerful Deposition, with its cascade of mourning figures and terribly weighty, terribly dead body of Christ, luminous against the darkness, is the guard doing his job. I compliment him, and he looks startled, as if I were being ironic, then realizes I’m serious and thanks me.

Back on the other side of the river, I give the Lerners a tour of my old neighborhood. Since I lived equidistant between the two most celebrated coffee bars in Rome, we decide to try them both, before and after lunch, for comparison. First, the bar in Piazza San Eustachio, where we conduct our research while admiring the church’s statues of the eponymous hunter and the miraculous stag. Then lunch at one of the remaining old-style trattorie in the area. En route, we pass the building where I lived, across the street from the Pantheon, admire Bernini’s obelisk-bearing elephant in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and step inside the enormous Gothic church. Patty, Yvonne, and I had studied a model of the Pantheon and its precincts at the Ara Pacis, so I point out the remnants of what we’d seen in miniature and take everyone around the corner, to view the surviving fragment of a colossal Constantinian sculpture that gives Via del Pie’ di Marmo—“Marble Foot Street”—its name. After lunch, we continue our coffee project at Tazza d’Oro—results inconclusive, since both establishments are so good—and look at the complex of little Rococo buildings opposite the big Jesuit church of San Ignazio, like a stage set for a Mozart opera. We end up at La Palma, a gelateria with so many flavors and permutations of ice cream that it would require several lifetimes to sample them all. We make our decisions with some difficulty, including my trying to unravel for Yvonne the semiotic layers of a chocolate-laced flavor called stracciatella—“rag-style”—also the name of a sort of egg drop soup that I’d explained at lunch. But I have lingering doubts. Only a few blocks away is Giolitti, a much older, equally celebrated establishment, so convenient to the Chamber of Deputies that you sometimes find the entire government of Italy eating gelato there. Wasn’t Giolitti’s hazelnut flavor slightly subtler than that of La Palma, with just a bit more grain of the ground nuts? That comparison, however, would have to wait until another trip. There are limits, even in Rome. 


- Karen Wilkin


Appears by permission from The Hudson Review, Vol. LX, No. 2 (Summer 2007).  Copyright (c) 2007 by The Hudson Review, Inc.


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