As rains washed the city and the River Po flooded its banks during Artissima 18, Turin’s present-day devotion to contemporary art was plain. Public works from Daniel Buren, Rebecca Horn, Tony Cragg, and Michelangelo Pistoletto, among others, mingled with Baroque architecture, greeting me at every turn. Exhibition-goers spilled onto the streets and an atmosphere of art and innovation was inescapable.
Turin is no stranger to innovative thinkers; this is after all where Nietzsche spent his final moments of sanity, Umberto Eco made his home, and architect Carlo Mollino lived and died. It’s also a city shrouded in stories of black and white magic, where you can supposedly enter the “Gates of Hell” through a drain cover in the Piazza Statuto, and a few missing fingers on a statue are cause for supernatural speculation.
Perhaps an in-depth understanding of the city and its goals, namely to draw cultural tourists, is what led to the selection of Turin-native Francesco Manacorda as Artistic Director for Artissima. In his second time as director, he created an inspiring mix of events and non-commercial projects. The strategy, according to Manacorda, was to create a “quasi-group exhibition” using the fair as a testing ground for new ideas in contemporary art.
Within the fair Fabian Seiz’s Another End of Painting (2010) at London-based gallery Josh Lilley was an eye-catcher. In this freestanding sculpture the artist manipulated the simplest of materials – rough cut wood, paper paint samples, strips of fabric, and a cloth tape measurer – to create a quirky yet elegant work. At Giorgio Persano, I was mesmerized by Alessandro Sciaraffa’s installation Ti porto il mare (I bring you the sea, 2011) of tilting drumheads filled with pebbles, which created a meditative soundscape throughout one side of the fair hall. In a special section titled “Back to the Future” artists from the 1960’s and 70’s were revisited, and none was more eye catching than Giorgio Griffa’s simple raw canvas paintings at Giampiero Biasutti. Director Manacorda addressed this section noting that reasonable prices coupled with the chance of discovering new artists would be the key its success.
Two new projects bolstered an already enthusiastic atmosphere: Simple Rational Approximations, taking place within the fair, and Artissima LIDO, set in the city center’s medieval "Roman Quadrilateral" district. Simple Rational Approximations, curated under the direction of Manacorda by Turin artist Lara Favaretto, was modeled on traditional museum sectors. The unquestionable favorite was her take on a museum’s permanent collection in which twenty magnificent cakes were created daily in homage to the likes of Claes Oldenburg, Lucio Fontana, and Damien Hirst, among others. Visitors lined up for their afternoon sugar buzz, briefly oohing over the creations before devouring them. I sampled tributes to John Baldessari and Robert Gober, returning for a little bit of Dan Flavin, because they were just that delicious.
On the other side of town, Artissima LIDO was curated by Italian artists Christian Frosi, Renato Leotta, and Diego Perrone. Taking place for the first time outside of fair hours, the program gave voice to a rising generation of Italian collectives, spaces, and artists. For anyone willing to brave the rain, there were some real surprises. The curators were given carte blanche, which couldn’t have been more obvious than at Codalunga. Here the presentation of GG Allin’s prison works displayed alongside portraits from serial killers and a post mortem letter of condolence to Allin’s sister from John Wayne Gacy, provided an unexpected contrast to the relatively chaste atmosphere of the fair.
During the day The Others endeavored to lure visitors to Turin’s former jail, Le Nuove, with a fair of galleries established after 2008. In the evening I joined the hordes braving a downpour to pack the streets of San Salvario for Parartissima, a celebration of young creatives. To add to the cultural abundance, on the 5th the crème de la crème of Turin’s galleries presented their finest in a multitude of openings for Contemporary Arts Night, while the all-night Club to Club music festival had more than one gallery assistant looking haggard on Sunday morning.
Talk of the economic crisis couldn’t be avoided. During the press and collector preview on the 3rd, the atmosphere was charged when a number of works sold before noon. The bank foundation CRT allocated €350,000 for acquisitions for Turin’s two key contemporary art museums. As the weekend wore on conspicuous “purchased for GAM/Castello di Rivoli” materialized in booths throughout the fair, but despite high hopes, sales reports in general were mixed.
Regardless of sales, what Artissima has created is a lofty opportunity for an insightful discourse between independent spaces, gallerists, curators, and artists on the future of contemporary art. During the fair Turin’s mayor, Piero Fassino, declared a desire to transform the city, comparing its potential future to that of Berlin. However others weren’t so convinced. When I pointed out my surprise at this comparison to one local, he replied “Sure, and in the 80’s Turin was to be the next Barcelona.” The point is, Turin isn’t, and shouldn’t be trying to become another city, because, at least over this weekend, just being itself was pretty damn impressive.
~Alicia Reuter, a writer living in Berlin.
(Images: Alessandro Sciaraffa, Ti porto il mare (I bring you the sea), 2011, installation; Courtesy Giorgio Persano; Lara Favaretto; Installation views; Photos by Alicia Reuter.)