Maxxi: Italy's New Contemporary Art Museum

Maxxi museum is a former military barracks in Rome i i

hide captionThe Maxxi museum opened on the grounds of a former military barracks in a residential area of Rome. It was designed by Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who in 2004 became the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

Pier Paolo Cito/AP
Maxxi museum is a former military barracks in Rome

The Maxxi museum opened on the grounds of a former military barracks in a residential area of Rome. It was designed by Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who in 2004 became the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

Pier Paolo Cito/AP
Performers from the Sasha Waltz Dance Company i i

hide captionPerformers from the Sasha Waltz Dance Company warm up inside the new national museum for contemporary arts and architecture in Rome's Flaminio district last week.

Pier Paolo Cito/AP
Performers from the Sasha Waltz Dance Company

Performers from the Sasha Waltz Dance Company warm up inside the new national museum for contemporary arts and architecture in Rome's Flaminio district last week.

Pier Paolo Cito/AP

In the city of the ancient Romans, Michelangelo and Bernini, architecture buffs got a preview over the weekend of Maxxi, Italy's new contemporary art museum. Its official name is the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts.

The Maxxi is a rare example of the avant-garde in what's known as the Eternal City.

The first glimpse is the bland facade of a 19th century military barracks. But lurking just behind, curves of steel and concrete soar upward to a glass roof that bathes the museum in natural light.

Designed by Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid, the Maxxi inspires fairy-tale comparisons, like entering the belly of a giant whale. And its slippery surfaces give the feel of a flying carpet.

Hadid appears mindful that in recent years Rome has not warmly welcomed contemporary architects. "I hope I'll come back regularly to visit to make sure they have not done anything odd. I'm watching," she warned Italian art officials.

Hadid says she was inspired by Rome's many layers of history and architectural styles.

But the style she seems most inspired by is baroque. The Maxxi echoes its fluid and sinuous forms, concave and convex spaces, and white curving lines that mysteriously disappear and reappear.

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