When in Rome, opening night performances, Hammer Museum and Istituto Italiano di Cultura, April 20, 2011

Luigi Ontani (center) and performers, AmenHammerAmeno

Los Angeles got a strong taste of Italian performance at the opening reception for When in Rome, a survey of works by artists with ties to the Eternal City, currently on view at Instituto Italiano di Cultura.

The festive evening was kicked off by influential artist Luigi Ontani, who presented a new site-specific work, AmenHammerAmeno, in the courtyard of the Hammer Museum. The piece began with a procession from the Hammer to the nearby Istituto and back, and culminated in a 20-minute tableau vivant accompanied by live Balinese music. Ontani was assisted in his project by performers he had recruited from the local art community; everyone wore costumes and carried large ornate masks with amazing designs derived from Balinese folk traditions. The performers’ places in the courtyard were marked by flower petals laid out in the shape of a giant painter’s palette.

After the tableau dispersed, everyone migrated over to the Instituto to check out the exhibition—a mish-mash of contemporary and historic works in a variety of media—and peel giveaway burn art by Cesare Pietroiusti off the wall of the lobby. At some point it was announced that a performance was taking place in the garage downstairs, so down we went into an actual underground garage space with lots of cars parked throughout. This was an incredibly cool place to have an event, full of odd incidental atmosphere. Emiliano Maggi gifted us with a performance that was as charming in its grungy kitsch as Ontani’s was in its quaint elegance. Fake blood, furs, and toy eyes took the place of flower petals in Maggi’s palette, as he manipulated a synthesizer and took up an electric mandolin to channel Tiny Tim.

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