ONLY MINUTES INTO THE OPENING and the palace was packed. Just after 6 PM, on the wet streets of Turin, a suited and heeled mob pushed at the doors of Palazzo Cavour for SHIT AND DIE, Artissima’s inaugural event. Artissima is owned by the region and is as much festival as fair; its off-site exhibitions, falling under the umbrella “One Torino,” and on-site prizes are as much a draw as the commercial galleries boothed in the Lingotto Oval event center. Curators Maurizio Cattelan, Myriam Ben Salah, and Marta Papini culled the title from a work by Bruce Nauman, waiting until the last moment to announce its feculent fatalism. “Many of the places we borrowed from—museums and institutions—said they wouldn’t have loaned to us if we’d told them the name,” said Ben Salah. Over the next few days, every time I ran into Artissima director Sarah Cosulich Canarutto, she relayed a new story of defending to local politicians first the show’s title and then its contents, which included, to the officials’ dismay, an abundance of engorged cocks.
I finally shimmied through the mob and into a long line that curved up the stairs past Eric Doeringer’s The Hug: forty thousand single dollar bills attached to the wall, rippling with each halting lurch of the line. Once inside, I found less an exhibition than a lusty funhouse filled with fictive, beautiful, and slightly fucked-up visions of its impresarios, altogether reflecting on the witchy, gritty, and sometimes utopic tales and legends of Turin. There was a hall of tumescent fetishes by Pascale Marthine Tayou; an Ancient Greek orgy chamber drawn on-site by Dasha Shishkin and arrayed with pussies by VALIE EXPORT (1969) and Tracey Emin (2000); and a hirsute, half-staffed male nude by Sylvia Sleigh (1974). In the office of the former owner—Italy’s first prime minister, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour—under the plastic-wrapped walls and furniture hung a diminutive photograph of Toulouse-Lautrec defecating on a beach, alluding to the Count’s rumored coprophagia. Near the champagne bar, Ben Salah introduced me to Cattelan; gold-booted and entouraged, he thanked me for all my good work and then stamped my forehead with the words SHIT AND DIE. It felt like some kind of smirking baptism.
Some fraction of the opening crowd walked to the dinner in the regal seventeenth-century Palazzo Graneri della Roccia and then to “SHIT AND PARTY” at an underground club that I might have stumbled into around 4 AM during last year’s fair, speakers pumping Spice Girls and a floor packed with hormonal teenagers. Even now the dance hall was aromatic with teen spirit. The party crackled out early for a lot of us, hotel-bound in anticipation for the fair’s opening the next day.
The rippling glass skin of the Lingotto Oval beamed brightly against the gray, autumnal sky, providing at a distance a first shimmering glance of the gathering crowd. Passing through security, I aimed for the heart of the fair, both literally and figuratively: two sections—Present Future and Back to the Future—that feature solo booths from emerging and historical artists, respectively. Organized by Luigi Fassi with Catalina Lozano, Piper Marshall, Jamie Stevens, and Xiaoyu Weng, this year’s Present Future had Dawn Kasper—vigorously working two giant paintings in the booth while her dealer David Lewis vigorously looked on from an office chair—and Robin Cameron, who built a boneyard of ceramics and an homage to Matisse’s cutouts at Room East. But the winner (especially for the jury that awarded her the Illy Prize) was Rachel Rose’s spooky video-collage at High Art, comprising transient bursts of noise with announcements, like Negativland frenetically searching for a way out of Philip Johnson’s Glass House.
In Back to the Future, I lingered around Saltoun’s installation of Hans-Peter Feldmann and Friedl Kubelka, Lutz Bacher at Buchholz, and Channa Horwitz at Ghebaly (another prize winner), before wandering into the main fair’s jungle of booths. A warped mirror hid inside a small house by Tom Burr at Franco Noero, while a decapitated head softly bounced down stairs in an Ed Atkins video at Bortolozzi. At Ibid Projects, Magnus Edensvard curated a meditative group show on studies and still lifes, anchored around a beautiful sculpture by Anthea Hamilton. Edensvard proudly described how each work fit into the whole. “I’ve been coming to Artissima for years,” he said, “mostly for conversations like the one we’re having now.”
The opening concluded with a performance by Nico Vascellari. A crowd gathered over a highway underpass next to the Lingotto, while a DJ played a recording of the last speech from Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia (1983), in which a man sitting astride an equine statue of a Roman emperor declaims on the need for humanity to return to its foundations before setting himself on fire with a Zippo. Vascellari walked across the highway and sat astride the cement divider, the cars speeding by barely missing his legs.
The following night I ran into the artist at the headquarters for the concurrent dance festival, Club-2-Club. I found Vascellari, who was also in the music festival, beyond a carousel playing “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” and inside a live scoring by artist-filmmaker Carlos Casas. “I felt like I had to risk my life to honor that speech,” said Vascellari, “to reveal what’s truly at stake.”
If only the stakes were always so clear. An hour later in an industrial neighborhood between the Turinese suburbs of Grugliasco and Rivoli, I found myself led along a walkway lined with flaming logs into a warehouse filled with the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s sizable collection of sizable art: a crashed foil car, Cartwoman (2012), by Andra Ursuta, stood a few feet from Paul McCarthy’s carny-ride Bang Bang Room (1992), doors and walls slamming and turning. Two beautiful Charles Rays from 1986 and 1990 stood meters away, alongside works of more recent vintage, i.e., last year, by Helen Marten and Alis/Filliol.
Anticipating their collection’s twentieth anniversary next year, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo decided to install the show at this anonymous warehouse instead of at their normal space on Via Modane, and to host a special dinner for four hundred of their closest friends (though Francesco Bonami, until recently the Fondazione’s artistic director, skipped out early). We sat at silver-foil tables surrounded by silver-foil walls; several diners wondered whether we were seated in a Rudolf Stingel, though if it was it didn’t stop one couple from carving their names into its surface. After dinner and a turn on the dance floor, Patrizia interrupted our headbanging to drag us to the bar for glasses of thirty-year-old Nonino grappa poured, incredibly, by Antonella Nonino.
Standing under heat lamps with the smokers outside, the third person that day told me they were leaving either curating or criticism to work in a gallery. A few others complained about the distressing fate of that grand Turinese contemporary art museum, the Castello di Rivoli, whose directorship remains vacant and funding and administration uncertain. The flaming logs at the beginning of the evening had burned to smoldering charcoal, but in a projection playing both inside and outside the building, Fischli & Weiss’s kitty happily lapped its milk without a hint of slowing down.