A Local’s Roman Holiday

We asked one Roman local how to experience the best of his city.

Say Good-Bye to Free Sundays at Italy’s Museums

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  • NAME: Pepi Marchetti Franchi
  • AGE: 42
  • NEIGHBORHOOD: Spanish Steps
  • OCCUPATION: Founding director of the Gagosian Gallery in Rome

I’m originally from Rome, but after spending 10 years in New York, first studying at New York University and then working at the Guggenheim Museum, I moved back to my native city six years ago to open a branch of the Gagosian Gallery.

When the owner, the American art dealer Larry Gagosian, asked me to start the gallery here, my first big job was finding the right space. This, of course, meant deciding on a neighborhood. Since the gallery deals in modern and contemporary art—showing artists ranging from Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein to Jeff Koons and Willem de Kooning—we discussed the idea of looking in one of Rome’s former industrial areas, such as Ostiense, which are becoming trendy and offer bigger spaces. But I was convinced that the gallery should be right in the heart of Rome’s historic center. My thinking was that since there are contemporary art galleries all over the world—Paris, London, New York—what did Rome have to offer? History is a major component of the art experience. Historic art and architecture could act as both a framework and a counterpoint to our modern collection of art.

After looking at nearly 30 properties, we finally settled on a 1920s building that used to be a bank. Architecturally, it was just what we were looking for, with lots of light, wall space, and 20-foot-high ceilings. The gallery is located about three blocks from the famous Spanish Steps. Ancient Roman monuments like the Colosseum and the Pantheon form the backdrop to daily life in the city, and descendants of 16th-century popes still live among over-the-top baroque palaces built by their ancestors. This timeless setting complements the art we show in a new and unexpected way.

The neighborhood is full of contrasts. On one hand, we’ve got Via Condotti, filled with the shops of big designers like Bulgari, Gucci, and Prada. Yet at the same time, there are age-old artisans like Lavori Artigianali Femminili, where my grandmother and mother bought handmade baby clothes. And while there are big, heavily trafficked roads like Via Veneto, you can also still walk down small, cobblestone streets like Via Gregoriana, where you barely see a car.

I find inspiration every day in the timelessness of Rome. The 16th-century Villa Medici, which is home to the French Academy, is just up the street, and one of Rome’s great hidden monuments. It has an austere and imposing façade, but in the back there’s a magical garden full of sculptures. And the gallery is near the biggest park in Rome, Villa Borghese, where you will find the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s greatest works.

There are a lot of other picturesque neighborhoods in Rome, such as Trastevere or the area around Piazza Navona. But none are as beautiful as the Spanish Steps, with its grand buildings and cathedrals. What I love about this area is that it is a real neighborhood, in the classic sense. Yes, there are certainly tourists, but there are also those people who have been living here all their lives. That combination gives a personal sense of continuity and permanence and a classic feeling to what is the center of a European capital. It’s the right mix of old and new. The architecture is physically old, but the lifestyle here is very modern. The contrast makes it the perfect place for the gallery.

As told to Elizabeth Minchilli. This appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.

Founding director of Gagosian Rome, Pepi Marchetti Franchi has overseen more than forty exhibitions at the gallery since it was established, in 2007. Raised in Rome, she spent many years living in New York, including the eight years she was working at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
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