Small World

Left: Collector Cecilia Matteucci Lavarini and artist Stefano Cagol. Right: View of the panel Small Budgets, High Hopes. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

ALTHOUGH THE BIG WINTER STORM had not hit Italy in time for the thirty-sixth Bologna Arte Fiera, it was clear that the European crisis had already put a freeze on the art economy. But the striking dearth of visitors at the preview on January 26 was more likely the result of the slew of national transport strikes. (Artist Michelle Rogers told me that even the fishermen were boycotting, so no one would be eating fish on Friday.) Indeed it seemed that only the most dedicated—a rarefied group of collectors, artists, and curators—had made it to Italy’s biggest fair, in the venerable old university town.

But small can be beautiful in terms of fairs these days, and with some fifty fewer exhibitors, the Bologna halls were easier to navigate and infused with sunlight and breathing space. No need to exhaust oneself just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Aside from the pavilion dedicated to modern art, there were just two parallel pavilions (instead of the usual three) hosting contemporary galleries and the “Young Gallery” section, which had previously been relegated to a room at the far end of the mazelike halls. I arrived at Galleria ZAK’s booth just in time for the denouement of artist Paolo Angelosanto’s performance Vernissage, in which he stripped and plastered himself with show invitations collected over the years.

Farther down, painter Stella Rognoni, known for her political murals on Bologna streets, had made an “unofficial” exhibition: a life-size painting of curator Vittorio Sgarbi polishing the shoes of esteemed critic Philippe Daverio. “He was kicked out of his job by Letizia,” an Italian man next to me whispered, referring to the infamous Sgarbi’s firing by the mayor of Milan. (The following day the faces were obscured by plaster, and nobody was saying who did it.)

Left: Dealer Fabrizio Del Signore. Right: Dealers Giordano and Davide Raffaelli.

The beauty of the Bologna fair’s “haircut” was that it was easier to discover young Italian artists, a challenge even if you live in the country. “The fair is much better this year because it is more homogeneous and concentrated,” said Blindarte’s Memmo Grilli. “Those who have crap don’t sell and those with quality art do.” Only 10 percent of exhibitors were foreign. If you don’t count the nomadic gallery the Pool, run by three young Italians out of New York, the lone American dealer was Miami’s Diana Lowenstein, who said Bologna would be her only foreign fair for the year. Kalfayan Gallery jumped ship for the India Art Fair; Galleria Continua decided to cover both bases. “If there are few people here, they are the people who are buying,” said Mario Cristiani, who sported a spiffy white shirt with Damien Hirst spots. “It is not a golden moment, but when things are bad the art is often better.” The gallery did well with the work of Egyptian revolutionary Moataz Nasr, for example.

With so many behemoth fairs dominating the international market, why not offer Italian art at an Italian fair? The situation also seemed to be an improvement for less-established galleries. “We have done well,” dealer Giordano Raffaelli noted. “Having fewer galleries is better for us.” Milanese dealer Riccardo Crespi had an enviably expansive booth right near the entrance. Fabrizio Del Signore, of Rome’s Gallery Apart, noted: “Both blue-chip and young artists are selling; it’s the midrange that will suffer.” And that is basically what happened, with very little video on offer but lots of photography by big-name artists such as Thomas Ruff, Andres Serrano, and Vanessa Beecroft flying off the walls.

After a drive-by at a party for artist duo Blue and Joy, where we found all the young Italian fashionistas rubbing elbows and labels, I headed downtown to Spazio Carbonesi for the opening of the exhibition “Twin Mind,” curated by Daria Khan. Once inside the cavernous Palazzo Zambeccari, we found only the cream of the crop in attendance: designer Alberta Ferretti, Vogue’s Franca Sozzani, artist Luigi Ontani—whose sold-out performance reprising his oeuvre the next night would be the big event of the art week—and curator Ludovico Pratesi. In the ballroom, artist Emiliano Maggi performed against a gothic backdrop of Rorschach-style projections and dripping wax sculptures. Dressed in blond furs and a wig, he created eerie ambient noise from a keyboard and screeched before acting out a Native American creation myth, spitting out bloodlike liquid and turquoise beads into a tree stump. Russian artist Julia Zastava’s surreal video Cherries Talk, in which giant versions of the fruit with human mouths bark hypnotically, was projected on another wall. I asked collector Lorenzo Mancini, “Have you seen . . . ?” He cut me off—“A horror film?” he inserted indignantly. “Yes, I have!”

Left: Emiliano Maggi performance. Right: Artist Julia Zastava and curator Daria Khan.

If that was The Haunted Forest, the party at the aesthetically chaotic house of collectors Marino and Paola Golinelli was Eyes Wide Shut, with everyone wearing carnival masks and feeding from a fountain spurting pure chocolate. By the time we arrived around midnight a happy few were grooving to retro dance classics. I ran into fabulous fashion collector Cecilia Matteucci Lavarini and artist Stefano Cagol in a room encompassed by Bolognese artist Sissi’s giant woven nest: “They cannot possibly live here—it’s an art disco!” Cagol exclaimed. Afterward, the streets were creepily empty, and speeding through them with our Roman driver was like playing a car-chase video game with a medieval backdrop.

The next night was an exclusive dinner honoring artist Andrea Büttner on the occasion of her MaxMara Art Prize exhibition, “The Poverty of Riches,” at the Collezione Maramotti space, in the retrofitted former MaxMara factory in Reggio Emilia, one hour away from the fair. I chatted with the Armory Show’s Deborah Harris, who confirmed the trend of shrinking fairs: “We will have less exhibitors this year, and it will be more like a festival, with a curated section of young galleries and performances.” On the way out curator Chus Martínez made our host Luigi Maramotti, head of fashion house MaxMara, promise he would come to Documenta. “If you promise me there will be no fashion in the art!” he replied.

Left: Collector Luigi Maramotti and curator Chus Martínez . Right: Artist Andrea Büttner and curator Marina Dacci.

The city was buzzing on Saturday, when museums and galleries were free to the public and open late for the White Night. After an obligatory lunch at a homey Bolognese trattoria, we made a tour around the installations of Art First, the annual site-specific initiative curated by Julia Draganovic. This required entering some of the most obscure and distinguished edifices in the city—including the extraordinarily beautiful Palazzo Sanguinetti, housing the Museo della Musica. Part of the show was the well-heeled Bolognese strutting their stuff between shows and shops at the Galleria Cavour mall, and that day in particular it struck me that the problem with the aesthetically saturated country is that the rich architecture upstages any art.

We found a compromise to the conundrum at Palazzo Bevilacqua Ariosti that evening: the stunning Renaissance cloister was overlaid by green geometric projections, by artists Nicola Evangelisti with the ELASTIC Group duo Alexandro Ladaga and Silvia Manteiga. Up in the ballroom, which resembled a decadent nineteenth-century period film set, a party hosted by Ippolito and Carlo Bevilacqua was just getting started. By the time the Bonomo sisters, Valentina and Alessandra, and gossip columnist Roberto D’Agostino arrived, neon-colored hors d’oeurvres were being passed around and the place was heaving with air-kissing guests. As he sipped a glass of pink champagne, a Roman curator commented crisply, adding his take on the effect of a too-rich history, “The problem with Italy is arrogance.”

The bitter cold that came in the next day was a prelude to the biggest winter storm to hit Italy in over a quarter century, stopping trains to and from Bologna and basically shutting down the country—a reminder that there are bigger things at work in the universe than our economic foibles. At Bologna Centrale station I met collector and Ferrari head Luca Cordero di Montezemolo getting on my train to Rome, with bystanders greeting him like a friend. “Crises shake up and clarify things,” artist Arthur Duff noted.

Left: Artists Arthur Duff and Francesco Candeloro. Right: Artists Fabio La Fauci and Daniele Sigalot of Blue and Joy.

Left: Collectors Luca Sghedoni and Emanuele Debbia with Paola Potena of Galleria Lia Rumma. Right: Carlo Bevilacqua Ariosti with artists Alexandro Ladaga and Silvia Manteiga.

Left: Dealers Marina and Pier Luigi Celli. Right: Dealers Carlo Santamaria and Umberto Raucci.

Left: Dealers Federico and Elia Bianchi. Right: Dealers Valentina Bonomo and Riccardo Crespi.

Left: Artists Emiliano Maggi and Caterina Nelli. Right: Artist Marco Raparelli and dealer Umberto Di Marino.

Left: Artist Michael Loveland and dealer Diana Lowenstein. Right: Artist Vladimir Radunsky and dealer Nina Lumer.

Left: Dealer Memmo Grilli and curator Cristiana Perrella. Right: Collector Massimo Alessandri and dealer Mario Cristiani.

Left: Dealer Dealer Federico Luger. Right: Artist Gaia Carboni, critic Luca Labanca, and artist Lisa Wade.