Gagosian turns to Rome for next stage of his art empire

Rome's claim to be a significant player in the world of modern art gained a powerful endorsement at the weekend with the opening of a monumental new gallery by the American art dealer Larry Gagosian.

The imposing central space of the gallery, a 23m by 13m oval carved out of a former bank's main hall, is by far the grandest exhibition space of any of the dozens of new venues that have opened in the city during the past few years.

For its inaugural show, Gagosian has chosen to fill it with three huge new paintings by one of his favourite modern masters, Cy Twombly.

Born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, Twombly has divided his time between the United States and Rome since the late 1950s. He has rarely exhibited in his adoptive city, not least because his work is often too huge in scale to be accommodated by ordinary galleries.

Gagosian's new showroom is located in a corner of central Rome that has powerful connections with the city's post-war cultural renaissance. Via del Veneto, the winding, sloping boulevard whose cafs hosted the likes of Federico Fellini and Elizabeth Taylor during the 1950s and 60s, when Rome was a major film-making city, is round the corner. The Spanish Steps, five minutes away, were close to the first shop of Valentino, who moved to Rome during the same era and rapidly became the couturier of choice for stars and starlets. The Trevi Fountain, where Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg posed in La Dolce Vita is also close.

Mr Gagosian said of his new space: "I am delighted to open a gallery in Rome, a powerful source of inspiration for artists of all times. We look forward to becoming part of the cultural life of this extraordinary city."

The gallery is in a typically ornate Roman commercial building, built in 1921, on a steep cobbled lane rising from Largo del Tritone on the road that leads up to the Villa Borghese.

Local architects Firouz Galdo and London partnership Caruso St John have stripped the interior down to bare walls and a grey Pietrasanta stone floor, in the cool, unadorned look chosen for all Gagosian's galleries. The main banking hall of the building had a huge bay window, and the architects have remodelled the opposite, formerly perpendicular, wall to create an oval space, with plenty of daylight coming through the windows.

The Twombly works shown in the inaugural exhibition, a series called "Three Notes from Salalah", are of the sort of vast proportions the space requires, their green backgrounds and white looping calligraphic swirls a conscious "homage" to classic Arabian art. Salalah is an oasis by the sea in "Arabia Felix" or Yemen, "a seaside oasis surrounded by an arc of mountains behind which lies the Empty Quarter... the largest sand desert in the world," as Julie Sylvester writes in the catalogue for the exhibition. "Here everything green flourishes... Once again Twombly provides us with a transport to another time, a different age, a new geography from which to address our world..."

Cy Twombly's work will be the subject of a major retrospective, held at the Tate Modern in London next year.

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