LONDON17 - 30 April 2019

Elisabetta Benassi

  Versione italiana
From Wednesday 17th to Tuesday 30th April, the Italian Cultural Institute in London is pleased to host the first stage of the project EMPIRE by Elisabetta Benassi, winner of the third edition of “Italian Council”(2018), the competition conceived by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Art and Architecture and Urban Peripheries (DGAAP) – an organism of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, to promote Italian contemporary art in the world. The project EMPIRE is promoted by Museo Nazionale Romano, in collaboration with Pontificia Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon.

Through the recovery and the transformation of materials and symbols, Elisabetta Benassi has been investigating the connection between the past and the contemporary, questioning the condition and identity of the present time. The EMPIRE project fits into this research already from the title, which inevitably refers to the vast and complex history of the Roman Empire and its incessant political and cultural reinterpretation.

The word “empire”, in its various and contrasting meanings, lights up pictures of power and greatness in the collective imagination but, at the same time, it evokes dark scenes of coercion, dominance and submission. By placing itself at the junction point between historical processes and memory, between symbolic and political values, verbal language and visual experience, with this project Elisabetta Benassi returns to reflect on the dialectical relationship between past and present. Like a machine, in order to produce unexpected configurations, EMPIRE aims to “make things difficult” for an Antiquity that is considered as an accepted fact. Instead it is given back as a conflicting plot, point of resistance to the alleged inevitability of the present.

EMPIRE is an installation composed of 6,000 terracotta bricks with black and violet clays, specially hand crafted in Great Britain in a furnace in the Royal Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire. Each brick is embossed with the same word as the title: EMPIRE. Added to them are two cinder bricks made in bronze and gold alloy. Also, EMPIRE echoes the basic structural component of the antique architecture – the roman brick – turning it into an entity that has new aesthetic and significant potential.

The site-specific character of this artwork allows it to reshape continuously, according to the context or space in which it is installed. Thus, from time to time, EMPIRE can evoke imaginary and ephemeral architectures, “castles” or suggestive and cryptic piles, similar to those produced during the drying process of the bricks. It may even recall tridimensional labyrinths walkable by spectators, “curtains” and structures arranged in configurations with varying proportions, in order to connect to the context.

In London, in the halls of the Italian Cultural Institute, the bricks of EMPIRE will design a labyrinth on the floor. Viewers will be able to meander in it looking for a way out from the “imperial dream” that proves to be as contradictory today, just as it was in the past.

After the exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in London, EMPIRE will be hosted in Rome, at Palazzo Altemps, Museo Nazionale Romano. Successively, in July, EMPIRE will be presented at Mostyn Contemporary Art Gallery (Wales). EMPIRE will be installed permanently at Crypta Balbi (Rome), at the same time as the evocative and emblematic show at Pontificia Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon (Vatican City, Rome).

The project EMPIRE by Elisabetta Benassi was achieved through the support of “Italian Council” - Directorate-General for Contemporary Art and Architecture and Urban Peripheries (DGAAP), an organism of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, headed by Federica Galloni.


Exhibition schedule:

  • 17 - 30 April 2019 Italian Cultural Institute in London
  • June - September 2019 Palazzo Altemps, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome
  • 13 July – 27 October 2019 Mostyn Contemporary Art Gallery, Llandudno (Wales)
  • October 2019 Crypta Balbi, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome
  • October 2019 Pontificia Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, Rome



17 to 30 April 2019
Monday to Friday 10am - 5:30pm
(closed on 25 April)

The Italian Cultural Institute in London
39 Belgrave  Square London SW1X 8NX

Press Office Museo Nazionale Romano
Gabriella Gatto