Chill Factor

Left: Dealer Gió Marconi, curator Francesco Bonami, and dealer Alma Luxembourg. Right: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler with MiArt director Vincenzo De Bellis. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

MILAN IS THE FASHION and design center of Italy and yet until recently its fair, MiArt, had been a poor stepchild to the grandfather Artefiera Bologna and elegant Artissima. Since director Vincenzo De Bellis took it under his wing in 2013 MiArt has matured into a cosmopolite with a fresh viewpoint. Previously a truly Italian affair, it has grown to include nearly 50 percent foreign galleries, largely American and British—just big enough to be confident and not yet full of itself.

The relaxed tempo of the preview last week was the calm before the coming storm, as the fair was a warm-up for the Salone del Mobile and Expo, both just about to hit the city. I began at the Loro Piana lounge, displaying two luminous tapestries by artist Pae White, made of precious thread and being sold by Kaufmann Repetto, where family members Maria Luisa and Lucia—dressed casually in natty cashmere blazers—hung out and chatted about art for sale. Just outside a nod to Milanese design was embodied by a section of twelve dealer booths, titled “Object,” offering limited editions. Luisa delle Piane’s booth was an appealingly whimsical installation around Plexiglas shelves by Andrea Branzi.

The objects of most desire on the floor seemed to be monochrome canvases by artists of the Milanese Spatialism movement: Paolo Scheggi, Enrico Castellani, Turi Simeti, Agostino Bonalumi, and, as always, Lucio Fontana. “There has been a recent raise in prices and international standing of Italian modern art, pushed by the sales at Italian auctions in London last October,” explained Giovanni Gasparini, of Christie’s Education. The “painting-objects,” termed estroflessioni, look like the work of modernist ghosts trying to punch their way out of pristine canvases in aesthetically pleasing compositions. If Artfiera Bologna is the biggest fair for Italian modern art, MiArt proffered a select squadron of key international dealers with broad offerings, such as Robilant & Voena, Tornabuoni, and Mazzoleni. Galleria Cardi upped the ante with a fantastic selection of Arte Povera—like a Michelangelo Pistoletto mirror and a steel, lead, and coal piece by Jannis Kounellis. Adding to the renaissance, Alberto Burri’s 1973 “Teatro Continuo” is being reinstalled in Sempione Park, thanks to curator Gaby Scardi, in time for the Expo.

Left: Dealers Sadie Coles and Lieselotte Seaton. Right: Dealer Federico Vavassori, artist Oliver Payne, and curator Niels Olsen.

The genius feature of the fair was the section called “THENnow” (a cute retort to Artissima’s “Present Future”?), pairing an established and a younger artist and two galleries in one exhibition. A standout was Giorgio Morandi, represented by Galleria d’Arte Maggiore G.A.M., and Sadie Coles artist Paloma Varga Weisz, whose Wunderkammerlike assemblies and sculpture were kindred spirits to the luminously quiet still lifes of the Bolognese painter. Kounellis and Tony Lewis made a felicitous union in a booth curated by the Christian Stein and Massimo De Carlo galleries. I ran into De Bellis giving a tour to some VIPs including Art Basel’s Marc Spiegler, who quipped, “I am then, he is now.” De Bellis explained his winning strategy: “I didn’t want to force young galleries to do solos—it does not serve them well—so I let them do what they want. Highlighting one artist is better for established galleries, who already have clientele and exposure at other fairs.”

Dinner that night was hosted by the Phillips auction house at the Palazzo Visconti, where Francesco Bonami had assembled “Great Wonderful: 100 Years of Italian Art” as a preview for the upcoming New York sale. It was a surreal and voluptuous scene, sundry modern artworks mounted against the florid Baroque setting in the palace of director Luchino Visconti’s family, whose emblem, depicted in the mosaic floors, is a child being devoured by a serpent. Two white canvases by Castellani and Bonalumi flanked a marvelous self-portrait by De Chirico; on another wall a white multilayered Scheggi kept company with a luscious sculpture resembling feather plumes in a box by Piero Manzoni.

“It is so relaxing here, I really enjoy it,” Persian collector Amir Shariat effused. Exiting the palace onto the quiet street, I looked to the right pondering the T293 party and then to the left in the direction of the Christie’s/Artribune bash at the Frigoriferi Milanesi; I so hated to miss either, but all I could do was descend into the Metro, surrendering to a fatigue born of aesthetic-hedonist overload.

Left: Pierpaolo Forte, president of MADRE, and dealer Umberto Di Marino. Right: Dealers Michael Callies and Memmo Grilli.

The word with Italian fairs is that as a foreigner you have to come several times before selling, but here the young dealers seemed quite pleased. On Friday I checked out the international “Emergent” booths to see how they felt and ran into Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo making the rounds. “There is a different pace here, less hurried than fairs in New York, for example, where there is a sense of urgency because they do three fairs in three days,” noted the Sunday Painter’s Tom Cole. Esperanza Rosales, of VI, VII is on her third stint at MiArt: “We did very well here with Eloise Hawser our first time around, and now she is a rising star.” This year she risked another solo, of artist Landon Metz. At the coffee bar, dealer Mauro Nicoletti groused, “The south is coming north!” Although it related to the slow bar service, it is true of galleries; from Naples Lia Rumma and Mimmo Scognamiglio have arrived, and Blindarte’s Memmo Grilli will open a space soon in Milan. “The Neapolitan collectors are esterofilia, but they like to buy things in other cities so they can say, ‘Oh this thing, I bought it in London!’ ”

Friday evening brought the “Spring Awakening” in a flush of openings around town. Lisson threw a party for Cory Arcangel’s show in the enchanting garden frequented by Leonard Da Vinci. No time to stop for long, we headed for the Lambrate area to visit Ida Pisani’s Prometeogallery for Giuseppe Stampone’s show “Emigration Made Pavilion 148,” where a child played with one of three remote-control boats in tubs named the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria; the Elad Lassry show at Massimo De Carlo; Ali Kazma’s “Intimacy” at Francesca Minini; and last but not least, Federico Vavassori’s new space, with a show of Mélanie Matranga and Oliver Payne curated by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen. Payne’s fantastic “Portal” painting transported us directly into the Gavin Brown’s Enterprise-Bridget Donahue fair booth, where one there is a view into the gallery.

Left: Curator Andrew Bonacina, collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and dealer Steve Pulimood. Right: Artist Cory Arcangel.

Afterward we attended the dinner in honor of artist Giuseppe Stampone at the home of collector Davide Blei, near the Gucci quarters overlooking a public garden. It was like a family reunion with a largely Italian group of collectors and curators including Eugenio Viola and Gaby Scardi. The effusive host came round and said, “All the food is homemade!” Setting out for a party hosted by twelve galleries at the vintage Sala Liberty, we got waylaid by dealer Michael Callies and a posse heading toward the Mousse party at the 1950s Ex Cinema Manzoni, where everything seemed psychedelic and the crowd dazed, so we ended the night at the jam-packed legendary Bar Basso, hosted by Vavassori and dealer Carl Kostyàl.

On Saturday I made my way to Lucie Fontaine, where Irma Blank’s “Pink Writings,” delicate lines painted on paper to resemble opaque texts in a book, were as Delphic and delightful as the artist herself. It seemed appropriate that the sunny weekend would end at the opening for “Painting, Painting” at Peep-Hole, De Bellis’s first baby, so I walked around the big cemetery and arrived at the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, the foundry where artists like Giuseppe Penone, Arnoldo Pomodoro, and Marino Marini have cast their work, in time for Oliver Payne’s “Chill Out” session. To be honest, I was late and the artist was manning the door wearing a SECURITY jacket; after a short discussion he allowed entrance, which turned out to be the chilled-out MO in spite of warnings that the doors would close shut promptly at the start time. The music was like a journey by time capsule—snippets whizzing past evoking different places/eras/memories—and it conceptually extended the space to the outside, where crowds were already gathering for the Peep-Hole opening upstairs. “This is my favorite album by KLF,” Payne explained. “They burned the money they made on their music and deleted the band’s back catalogue, disappearing, as if speeding up the inevitability of time.”

Left: Collector Raffaella Sciarretta and dealer Francesca Minini. Right: Artist Irma Blank and curator Nicola Trezzi.

Left: Dealer Fabrizio Del Signore and artist Luana Perilli. Right: Dealer Esperanza Rosales.

Left: Dealer Francesco Pantaleone, artist Loredana Longo, and dealer Francesco Giordano. Right: Dealer Lorenzo Poggiali.

Left: Dealer Luisa delle Piane. Right: Dealer Massimo Minini and artist Paolo Chiasera.

Left: Dealer Thomas Brambilla and collector Claudio Esposito. Right: Dealer Saverio Repetto.

Left: Massimo De Carlo's Flavio del Monte and curator Nicola Trezzi. Right: Dealer Mauro Nicoletti.

Left: Dealer Tiziana De Caro. Right: Dealers Carlo Santamaria and Umberto Raucci.

Left: GAM Bologna director Gianfranco Maraniello, artist Francesco Vezzoli, curator Angela Vettese, collector Stefano Sciarretta, MAXXI artistic director Hou Hanru, and curator Maurizio Bortolotti. Right: Giulia Tiraboschi of Gió Marconi.

Left: Marco Altavilla and Vittorio Visciano of T293. Right: Peep-Hole codirector Bruna Roccasalva and artist Tom Burr.

Left: Giovanni Gasparini of Christie's and Lucia Loro Piana. Right: Marta Fontolan and Giulia Ruberti of Gavin Brown's Enterprise.

Left: Art adviser Inna Kuester, dealer Norma Mangione, and curator Eva Brioschi. Right: Curator Paola Nicolin, collector Diego Bergamaschi, and curator Antonio Grulli.

Left: Collector Amir Shariat and Ilaria Bonacossa, director of Villa Croce. Right: Dealers Fabrizio Padovani and Alessandro Pasotti of P420.

Left: Emergent at MiArt. Right: A VIP tour with Vincenzo De Bellis.