Bologna Process

Cathryn Drake around Arte Fiera in Bologna

Bologna, Italy

Left: Arte Fiera Bologna director Silvia Evangelisti and MAMbo director Gianfranco Mariniello. Right: Artist Bill Viola with Anna Coliva, director of Galleria Borghese, and dealer Mauro Nicoletti. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

JUST IN TIME for Arte Fiera, the biggest art fair in Italy, Bologna was blanketed in dazzling white snow, a more cheerful vestment than the city’s typical winter gray. The spectacular storm caused delays for some dealers arriving by plane, but once there, the frigid weather made the city’s gigantic exhibition center feel all the more convivial. The economic climate of the fair was also relatively hot, at least compared with last fall’s Frieze, FIAC, and even Artissima fairs. Italy was hit relatively late, and less in extremis, by the world financial bust, and in Bologna—its richest as well as most Communist city—the art market is still healthy.

Thursday’s preview commenced at noon and was unnervingly quiet until around 5 PM, when collectors were suddenly streaming through the aisles. Italians are prudent buyers who mostly invest in midpriced known quantities or blue-chip classics. And that is the beauty of the behemoth Bologna beast: You find everything from modern to contemporary and what are referred to as “contemporary classics.” (For example, the tony Tornabuoni Arte booth featured a kelly-green Lucio Fontana, Alighiero Boetti’s Mettere al mondo il mondo, and a four-million-dollar 1984 Basquiat.) The downside for foreigners is that Arte Fiera is something of a national club. Greek dealer Arsen Kalfayan noted that Italian collectors don’t talk to you unless they already know you. “It seems like a closed system,” SF MoMA curator Rudolf Frieling observed. “So Italian. Always the same artists.”

Left: Collector Alain Servais. Right: Artists Grazie Toderi and Gilberto Zorio with dealer Alfonso Artiaco.

At closing time there, were mobs of people waiting for taxis and public buses that were few and far between, so I hitched a ride on the all-but-empty shuttle bus to the plush old Hotel Baglioni with artists Grazia Toderi and Gilberto Zorio, the latter the subject of a current retrospective at the MAMbo. Elegant and hushed, the hotel was clearly the place to be. I hooked up with curator Joe La Placa, in from London, at the Baglioni’s quiet restaurant, where the waiter told me that I was sitting in the seat just vacated by Eric Clapton. When I left, former dealer and publisher Charles Cowles was in the lobby reading a newspaper, looking the very gentleman of leisure as a group of Italian dealers huddled nearby.

On Friday morning, curator Julia Draganovic gave a tour of “Here and Now,” a series of site-specific installations inserted into fourteen different public spaces: Renaissance palace and museum courtyards, a shopping mall, an airport lounge. Francesco Simeti’s delicate kitelike constructions clung like pretty flotsam to the frescoed Baroque porticoes of the distinguished Archiginnasio, now a city library. The most compelling of several pieces in the Archaeological Museum was Barry X Ball’s hanging marble double portrait of Matthew Barney—a devastating balance of delicacy and heaviness, intimacy and horror.

Left: Dealer James Cohan. Right: Curator Julia Draganovic and SF MoMA's Rudolf Frieling.

That night was the fair’s headline event: Diario dell’Anima (Diary of the Soul), a chamber concert by Arvo Pärt conducting the austere and meditative Summa and a selection of other works—most affecting of which were the performances by singer Arianna Savall—framed by Bill Viola’s stunningly cathartic 2005 videos Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension. The packed performance was given in the grand vaulted hall of the Aula Magna di Santa Lucia, with a pomp and gravity befitting its historic digs. Politics are never far off in red Bologna, and later we heard the big news: Bologna mayor Flavio Delbono had resigned in response to allegations that he had wined and dined former assistant Cinzia Cracchi with public funds—a melodrama labeled Cinziagate by the local press, which has thrown the center-left stronghold into political chaos. It seemed a minor diversion compared with the flamboyant romantic antics of Italy’s septuagenarian prime minister, and Neapolitan dealer Memmo Grilli (of Blindarte gallery and auction house) commented: “After hearing of the sexual conquests of Berlusconi, Marrazzo, and Delbono, I realize that maybe I am in the wrong profession—you make love much more in politics than in art.”

The afterparty was hosted by collectors Marino and Paola Golinelli, who throw soirees during each Arte Fiera at their attic residence near Piazza Maggiore. The star is the chocolate fountain, which spurts its lusciousness perilously near a neon-hued painting by Ryan McGinness. The house was less throbbing with artwork than last year—fewer Plexiglas-covered paintings underfoot (perhaps cleared out by a recent Phillips auction of their collection). In the dressing room, I noted a newly installed triptych starring madcap Ashley Bickerton in a Balinese adventure. Viola and his New York dealer James Cohan partook in the fete, along with several Italian dealers and gossip columnist Roberto D’Agostino, who vogued around with Galleria Borghese director Ann Coliva. The American video artist was flocked with admirers, largely vying Italian dealers.

Left: Journalist Roberto D'Agostino with Anna Coliva. Right: Artist Sissi and dealer Memmo Grilli.

Saturday evening, after another assault on the fair, I visited the MAMbo with two Neapolitan friends to tour a collection-based show featuring mostly minor works from seminal artists in Italian contemporary art. By the time we got to the party in the museum’s restaurant, it was throbbing with young Italians drinking spritz con Campari and raiding the buffet. Bolognese performance artist Sissi and indie musician Cristian Bugatti, aka Bugo, started the dancing, and tables were moved to make way for bodies being passed above our heads. We finally squeezed out and hopped in a taxi for the gay club Atlantide, a squat at the Porta Santo Stefano city gate emblazoned with political manifestos. Grilli and I caught up with Naples’s MADRE curator Eugenio Viola inside, where there was barely room to wiggle, but the vibe was great and it was all part of the fun.

Left: Curator Julia Draganovic and group looking at Francesco Simeti's installation. Right: Guests at the Golinellis' party.

Left: Outside the Atlantide club. Right: Artist Carlo Benvenuto, dealer Suzy Shammah, and collector Luigi Recchia.

Left: Galleria Continua's Maurizio Rigillo and publisher Paolo Gori. Right: Marcella Mariani, dealer Emilio Mazzoli and collector Massimo Cocco.

Left: Dealers Lisa and Antonio Tucci Russo. Right: Artist Giorgio Laveri.

Left: The World's Longest Poem. Right: Dealer Valentina Bonomo.

Left: Curators Edward Cutler and Joe La Placa. Right: Maria Chiara Valacchi, Aloisia Resch, artist Andrea Mastrovito, and dealer Antonio Colombo.