Silence Is Golden

Cathryn Drake at the sixteenth edition of Artissima


Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo with filmmaker Chiara Clemente. Right: Charlotte Laubard, director of CAPC Bordeaux, with Artissima director Andrea Bellini. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

A CARPET OF GOLDEN AUTUMN LEAVES paved the somber streets of Turin on my drive from the airport to the Golden Palace hotel. Little did I know then that these were augurs of more fantastic golden showers to come. But not yet. That evening, the Turinese patroness Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (recently “knighted” by the French minister of culture) teamed with Italian Vogue editrix Franca Sozzani to host a screening of Chiara Clemente’s recent documentary Our City Dreams. A comedic highlight in the poignant portrait of five female artists—Swoon, Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramovic, and the late Nancy Spero—was the commanding diva Abramovic training scores of young Thais to crack whips at the sea as a punishment to God for the tsunami. “The women are useless,” she quips.

Afterward, the full house, mostly women, migrated through the rain from the host’s foundation to her residence, where the renowned dessert table once again lived up to its reputation. The sweets were outnumbered only by the invasion of Milanese art denizens, including dealer Francesca Kaufmann, who exclaimed, “I feel at home—all of Milan is here!”

During a coffee break the next day at the opening of the sixteenth edition of Artissima, fair director Andrea Bellini looked surprisingly relaxed. “If you have style, you stay calm when the car accelerates,” he explained. “If you freak out, you don’t deserve the car.” He also reported that first-time exhibitor Friedrich Petzel had already been around and purchased at least seven works the night before. When I caught up later at the fair with the New York dealer, he said, “I am pleasantly surprised by the dry sense of humor in the work—none of this candy-colored crap. I saw so many things I liked—or maybe the fair is not so big, so you can actually see things.” (Petzel, of course, added that he was also happy with how much he had already sold.) “When I come to Turin I am like a pig in shit,” dealer Javier Peres gushed, bringing to mind the local advent of truffle season.

Left: Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani. (Photo: Foto Reporters) Right: Castello di Rivoli curator Mariana Vecellio with Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Though opinions may differ among the 127 participating galleries, Bellini says he considers the fair more a cultural event than a profit-making vehicle. (There was a rumor circulating that he will be named director of the city’s august contemporary art museum, the Castello di Rivoli.) Indeed, in its preview issue, Milanese newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore bore the exuberant headline IT’S NOT A FAIR, IT’S A FESTIVAL! The city had commissioned visual artists like Rebecca Horn, Giulio Paolini, Daniel Buren, and Joseph Kosuth to create extravagant installations of Christmas lights that lined streets all over town. In front of La Rinascente department store, a “shopping angel” encased in a giant bubble invoked a Tomás Saraceno piece for sale at Genoa’s Pinksummer booth at the fair. The roster of events and exhibitions was such that those who made it to the nightly DJ’d parties at the Esperia boat club were heroes of sorts. I did not.

The centerpiece of this Artissima’s event marathon was “Blinding the Ears”—defined as “action, behavior, performance, instant theater”—in which artists were invited to produce a series of fifteen performances in theaters around town. The highly anticipated opening-night premiere was Gelitin’s All or the Just, staged at the Teatro Regio, whose luscious labyrinthine interior by architect and photographer Carlo Mollino resembles a gigantic red velvet boudoir. The colorful bacchanal—in which the Austrian collective and friends constructed a giant wooden double arch while prancing around in varying degrees of transvestite dishabille—culminated in a spectacular golden-shower daisy chain. (I vacated the front row early on for fear of being sprayed with bodily fluids.) It all sparked a lively discussion later in the hotel bar, where Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler wryly noted, “Not everyone can do a Tempo del Postino.” The next night on the same stage, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s political dialogue featured actors balancing wooden structures on their heads instead of the other way around. At the afterparty in the lobby, attended largely by local VIPs and government officials, Monopol’s Daniel Schreiber sniped, “It was less watchable than Gelitin.”

Left: Artist Jacqueline Riva, dealer Franco Soffiantino, and artist Cesare Pietroiusti on Tania Bruguera's installation. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Gelitin performing. (Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano)

Saturday evening in the Teatro Carignano, an eighteenth-century jewel box across from city hall, Pablo Bronstein staged a campy school-play rendition of the Greek tragedy Phèdre, prefaced by the caveat: “Please excuse the naive emotions expressed onstage. They are from a time when we were different people.” The real problem though was that the affected delivery of said naïveté went on long after it ceased to be amusing. During the intermission preceding Jim Shaw’s somber concert A Tone, Meant for Your Sins, I ran into two Gelitiners. The one who had squirted a fountain of red dye out of his bottom onstage explained, “It was exhausting voiding on each other for two hours. And I was afraid the dye would harm my intestines, so I did two enemas afterward.”

Presciently, the elegant Ristorante del Cambio next door was recently the scene of an attack by hooded anarchists who slung excrement and animal entrails at diners. Truth be told, Turin’s prim facade conceals a dark heart pulsating with eccentricity. (Think the houses of Savoy and Agnelli, the Shroud of Turin, and the black-magic triangle, not to mention the risqué Mollino.) And by some collusion of the planets, on arriving at the Franco Soffiantino gallery later that night, I found that artist Tania Bruguera had slathered the floor in pigs’ blood and covered it in plastic so everyone could walk on it as a live “drawing.” When a young man arrived, neatly took off his pants, and drank his own urine from a plastic cup, artist Jacqueline Riva turned to me and said, “I’ve seen a lot of dicks this weekend!” But dicks were the least of the provocative feast.

Left: Jim Shaw's A Tone, Meant for Your Sins. Right: Members of Gelitin. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)

Putting artists onstage to gaze at their navels—and penises—in front of a captive audience is likely to be risky. Even so, one of the most successful and compelling “Blinding the Ears” events was Matt Mullican’s classroom-style consideration of a video of himself under hypnosis projecting his artistic alter ego Glenn. Kneeling down with his face to the wall and the seat of his pants toward the audience, Mullican repeated to himself, “You are talking the talk and walking the walk, but it’s a losing walk. You’re a fucking fuck.” “Great ad for Levis!” joked curator Cornelia Lauf. Later in the same space—the former royal stables—Tris Vonna-Michell performed his hypnotic rap Photography Is My Punishment, a disorienting half-hour collage of times and places. In a raw black space without a stage, it was the most beautiful, as well as the shortest, piece I saw. As people milled about waiting for more, he asked, “Do you think they realize I’m finished?”

Left: Artist Matt Mullican. (Photo: Nikki Columbus) Right: Artist Tris Vonna-Michell. (Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano)