Reale Deal


Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Trussardi Foundation curator Massimiliano Gioni, Beatrice Trussardi, and artist Tino Sehgal. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

LAST TUESDAY EVENING in Milan, the Neoclassical Villa Reale became the sumptuous backdrop for a retrospective of Tino Sehgal’s living sculptures, set in motion among gesturing Canova marbles and an impressive assortment of nineteenth-century masterworks. Organized by the nomadic Trussardi Foundation and curated by Massimiliano Gioni, the selection of eight “situations” is billed as the “most ambitious and complete” assemblage of Sehgal’s “deproduced” objects, all but one of which were first presented in other contexts. Once home to Napoleon and the king of Naples, the palace’s cavernous salons were inhabited by seventy anachronistic specters, most of them posing, in typical Sehgalian fashion, as guards.

Arriving on the late side, I rushed around to see all the works, which would disappear Cinderella-like at an appointed hour. If it weren’t for the crowd blocking the door to one room, I would have tripped over the woman writhing on the floor in Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things, a piece that apparently comprises an anthology of gestures borrowed from videos by Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham. In this context, she resembled more than anything the paintings of female nudes and the white marble Venus by Pompeo Marchesi, reclining on a divan.

Just outside of the room where Selling Out was in progress, I encountered Graham himself, who was in Milan for the opening of his new pavilion, Sagitarian Girls, at Galleria Francesca Minini. Pushed into a corner by an attentive crowd, nubile young female and male guards took turns sinuously stripping out of their uniforms and then putting them back on against a cold backdrop of richly colored marble and brilliantly buffed parquet floors. In a long glass case along the adjacent corridor, a lineup of Medardo Rosso’s waxy sculptures seemed to be shifting shapes in solidarity. But it was the stylish Italian spectators—strictly prohibited by the artist, as usual, from photographing the fleeting vignettes—that made for the most fascinating subjects.

Left: Emilio Re Rebaudengo and collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: Collector Gemma Testa, Dan Graham, and critic Maurizio Bartolotti.

For This is so contemporary—which famously debuted at the German pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale—the original players were recruited to perform again, flitting around a room whose very uncontemporary artworks had been removed so as not to confuse the crowd. The work’s rehashing here only emphasized how well suited the scenario was to its original white-cube space, where the long line to get in provided much of the drama. (In addition to cramped legs, bitter grumbling, etc.) As I entered the room knowing full well what the silly guards would do, I found myself flinching as they hopped and lunged around me lilting the insipid phrase “This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary!” It’s difficult to convey the full sense of the tableaux vivants. At best, a picture would just show a middle-aged guard with hands raised in imitation of a bird in flight—which, well, may be a decent summary of the experience. An image of the spectators’ perplexed expressions might be equally evocative.

Kiss, the only other piece that I had witnessed previously, was lovely here—resonating as it did with a sensuous statue of an embracing Amor and Psyche in a nearby corridor. The work’s repetitive quality was suited to the opulent ballroom in which it was staged, which was missing only chairs along the periphery for vying dance partners.

A motley group of guards milling around in the final rooms clearly signaled that they were the “interpreters” of the show’s single premiere, This is critique, in which interlocutors are encouraged to engage in discussion about the exhibition (recalling Sehgal’s interactive piece on the art market in the 2005 Venice pavilion). For better or worse, Sehgal promises that this is the last time his collaborators will be disguised as museum guards; one presumes that docents are still fair game. A local schoolteacher approached me and implored, “If you are a critic, then you must say critical things about the artist’s work!” Performance anxiety ensued. Luckily, at that moment Gioni came by to announce that the museum was closed, cutting me off before I could open my mouth.

Left: Dealer Francesca Minini and artist Lorenzo Scotto di Luzio. Right: Artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

An intimate dinner party followed at the chic Trussardi alla Scala, just opposite the city’s famous opera house. An onslaught of artful and delicious dishes, each one better than the last, was delivered on little plates: crème fraîche cannoli tipped with caviar, foie gras sautéed in beer, mozzarella with tomato gelatin, polenta with cheese and white truffle sauce, apple cream with tonka beans, and pumpkin risotto to match the sleek space’s warm color. Gioni’s partner, Cecilia Alemani, in Italy this fall to work on Artissima and the “Italics” show at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi, showed up looking stunning in black with gold-trimmed pumps, while the understated and charming collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo attended with her son Emilio, who sported a cheerful plaid blazer, accenting his spiky red hair.

The “interpreters” of the exhibition seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, amiably chatting about the side effects of the undertaking. Philosopher and musician Andrea Labanca said they were given four-point improvisational guidelines during the intensive discussions with Sehgal leading up to the show, but the man from This Occupation noted coyly that he had been ordered not to give details. In addition to reuniting the performers from Venice, the exhibition also happily brought together former local acquaintances. Trussardi production manager Barbara Roncari said she was pleasantly surprised to run into her favorite high school teacher, who was one of the guards in the new piece. Meanwhile, the thirty-two-year-old artist himself, dressed casually in cool Berliner fashion, was served a specially prepared individual menu by his own personal waiter. For all his attention to the immaterial, Sehgal obviously does not leave the finer things in life up to chance.

Left: Amor and Psyche. Right: Interpreter Andrea Labanca, Trussardi's Barbara Roncari, and Massimo De Carlo's Elena Tavecchia.

Left: Critic Lorenzo Bruni, curator Gabi Scardi, and artist Marjetica Potrc. Right: Dealer Aaron Moulton and critic Paola Nicolin.

Left: Artists Massimo Grimaldi, Christian Frosi, and Sabine Delafon. Right: Permanent Food's Paola Manfrin and artist Alberto Garutti.

Left: Curators Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani. Right: Lucie Fontaine's Alice Tomaselli.