Italian Futurist's Rome apartment—a 'total fusion of art and life'—revealed by MaXXI museum

The small flat inhabited and decorated by 20th-century artist Giacomo Balla is open to the public for the first time as part of a new exhibition

Giacomo Balla added his colourful Futurist designs to the walls and furniture of his Rome apartment, a total work of art now open for guided tours by MaXXI museum Photo: M3Studio; courtesy of Fondazione MAXXI; © Giacomo Balla, by SIAE 2021

On the fourth floor of an apartment building on Via Oslavia in the Prati quarter of Rome, a small flat holds within it a world of colour: pools of crimson, shards of yellow, orbs of aquamarine. Home to the leading Italian Futurist Giacomo Balla from 1929 until his death in 1958, Casa Balla was his canvas and a showcase for his ideas of a “total” art in which creativity infiltrates every aspect of life. “Reconstruct the universe by making it more joyful,” Balla wrote in a 1915 manifesto. When he moved to Via Oslavia, he began by decorating his own surroundings in vibrant patterns: walls, furniture, objects and all.

This multicoloured temple to Italian Futurism is now finally being revealed to the public thanks to a major project by Rome’s MaXXI museum of contemporary art and architecture, Casa Balla: from the House to the Universe and Back, led by curators Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Domitilla Dardi. Until 21 November, an exhibition at the museum presents Balla’s works alongside responses by contemporary artists, while a parallel series of weekend tours offers small groups an intimate encounter with the house itself. (Tickets for the tours must be pre-booked online and can only be purchased in combination with the museum exhibition.)

A detail of the hallway at Casa Balla Photo: M3Studio; courtesy of Fondazione MAXXI; © Giacomo Balla, by SIAE 2021
The red studiolo at Casa Balla Photo: M3Studio; courtesy of Fondazione MAXXI; © Giacomo Balla, by SIAE 2021

“Balla’s home expresses the deepest essence of his personality and his conception of art,” Pietromarchi says. This “did not only concern the work as an object, be it a painting or a piece of furniture, but as a lifestyle, a way of living and thinking”. The house was a living embodiment of Balla’s “total fusion of art and life” and his “laboratory for experimentation”.

After Balla’s death, his daughters Elica and Luce continued to live and work in the apartment, adding their own creative elements to the interior. It was only after the death of Elica in 1993 that the heirs began restoring the property with the aim of opening it to the public. In 2004, it was declared a protected heritage site. But its riches went unseen until 2019, when MaXXI began the process of “surveying, studying and securing the house and the heritage it contains”, Pietromarchi says.

Giacomo Balla in 1931 with his daughter Luce Photo: Archivio E. Gigli; © Giacomo Balla, by SIAE 2021

Supported by the fine arts authorities of Rome and sponsor Banca d’Italia, the museum team scoured the house from top to bottom, lifting layers of linoleum covering the 1920s floors and restoring them to their original splendour. The inventory shed light on a mass of previously unpublished material by Balla, including 60 drawings that have now been restored, many of which are on display for the first time at MaXXI.

Although public access to the house is currently “limited to the time of the exhibition”, Pietromarchi says, he hopes that “in the coming months, new conditions can be created to make the project sustainable”. In the meantime, the exhibition and apartment tours promise to revive interest in Balla’s legacy and his role in Italy’s foremost avant-garde art movement. In the words of Pietromarchi, this is a rare chance to experience nothing less than a “masterpiece”.

Casa Balla: from the House to the Universe and Back, MaXXI, Rome, 17 June-21 November; 45-minute tours of 39B Via Oslavia run Friday-Sunday, 25 June-21 November