One Good Turin


Left: Artissima director Andrea Bellini. Right: Curator Francesco Bonami with Emi Fontana's Alessio delli Castelli and Barbara Carneglia. (All photos: David Velasco)

Every two years, Venice reluctantly opens the Giardini’s rusty gates and claims its place as the art world’s momentary polestar. But at other times, Turin is the quiet capital for new art in Italy—at least according to the city’s vigorous marketing crew. (To be fair, few I met would dispute this fact.) Indeed, the city has an impressive artistic legacy: It features several internationally significant art spaces (such as the Castello di Rivoli and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo), it’s the birthplace of arte povera, and it even boasts the world’s most famous photogram (the controversial Sacra Sindone, or Shroud of Turin). Home to more than a few important collectors and curators, the city also hosts Artissima, Italy’s premiere art fair, now in its fourteenth edition.

The fair was the occasion for my trip to the city a week ago, though a chance to experience Pepino’s legendary gelato and Guarino Guarine’s celebrated spires admittedly sweetened the pot. Parched and diminished after an intercontinental red-eye, I arrived on Thursday at the Golden Palace Hotel and—already running late—repaired directly to the fair’s preview at the vast grounds of Lingotto Fiere, the city’s main exhibition center. Inside, I was relieved to note both the leisurely attitude of VIP attendees (no collector set-tos here) and the general quality of the booths on display. In the wake of an apparently dreadful turnout last year, the local authorities (who took over the fair in 2004) gave it a face-lift, soliciting Art Basel director Sam Keller last December for ideas. Keller reportedly told them, “You don’t need a traditional fair manager, you need an art critic,” and recommended Andrea Bellini, former US editor of Flash Art, for the position of Artissima’s new director. In a display of anti-bureaucratic bravado, one of Bellini’s first official acts was to slash the roster from 172 to 131 galleries and limit the invitees to solidly contemporary dealers.

Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: Castello di Rivoli chief curator Ida Gianelli.

This made for a number of fresh and unusual faces, though a few groaners (perhaps capped by Liu Ding’s sculpture A Man Fucking a Chicken, 2007, which depicted, well, exactly that) found their way into the lot. But the admitted galleries seemed to fare well, with Turin native Stefania Bortolami, participating at Artissima for the first time, joining those who sold out their booths by the end of the first day. By Saturday, the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo had added four works to its collection, including Robert Orchardson’s tightly referential installation Melnikov, 2007, from Wilkinson Gallery in London and a hanging sculpture by Alice Cattaneo from Suzy Shammah. Raising the stakes even higher, some dealers buzzed that Tate Modern director Vicente Todolí and former Whitney director David Ross were floating around with one million euros for acquisitions for the Castello di Rivoli burning a hole in their pockets.

Most galleries eschewed the cocksure architectural statements typical of Frieze and Miami, but a few did trick out their booths: Turin’s own Galleria Franco Noero commissioned artist Pablo Bronstein to cut an irregular doorway for its stand, while Moscow’s Regina Gallery turned its space into one big black box for Victor Alimpiev videos. Most unusual was New York’s Fruit and Flower Deli, which won this year’s Carbone Prize for new entries. Initially, the directors, who run their gallery according to mysterious spiritual guidance, wanted to seal their booth from the public entirely—an idea quickly nixed by the fair organizers. “So instead we decided to consult our oracle,” explained co-owner Rodrigo Mallea Lira. “It told us to put our bed in the booth.” A tempting method for relieving hotel costs if anybody’s still scouring for budget options in Miami.

Following a performance by Japanese experimental-music legend Merzbow in the center of a spiral parking garage (Guggenheim, eat your heart out), nearly nine hundred guests swarmed Eataly—a nearby slow-food, gourmet grocery that makes Whole Foods look like a corner deli—for the fair’s mother of an official dinner. Numerous familiar faces milled through the bewildering maze of goodies and smiling caterers, with a few New York dealers chaperoning their artists through the aisles. (Elizabeth Dee with Ryan Trecartin and Lizzy Fitch, and Bellwether’s Becky Smith accompanying Anne Hardy.)

Left: Dealer Franco Noero. Right: Bortolami's Simone Battisti and Stefania Bortolami.

Early—too early—the next morning, I made the trek to the breathtaking Castello di Rivoli to see Tate Modern’s traveling Gilbert and George retrospective and to hear Bellini dish on the fair. As a fellow critic noted, Bellini, with his good looks and relaxed demeanor, has all the markings of a budding art-world impresario, but the full extent to which he can reinvigorate Artissima remains to be seen. “Turin isn’t Rome or Venice,” Bellini said. “Of course, Kassel isn’t Rome, and Minneapolis isn’t Venice, but you can attract attention by producing high-quality cultural events.” Building on this year’s heightened profile, next year’s fair will coincide with the second Turin Triennial, and Bellini is planning to cut another thirty or so galleries for the 2008 edition, as well as to bring in some satellite entities (such as a Palais de Tokyo outpost called “Chalet de Tokyo”). But it will surely require ambition from (and coordination with) Turin’s respected art institutions for the fair to become a mandatory stop on the international circuit. While this edition was accompanied by a compelling list of exhibitions around the city (G&G at the Rivoli; Bellini’s years-in-the-making Gino De Dominicis exhibition at Fondazione Merz; “Collage/Collages” at the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea; Francesco Bonami’s video exhibition, “Stop and Go,” at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo), most had opened last month and few had originated in Turin.

Friday night culminated with another buffet-style dinner for art-world power players at the impressively chic digs of collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. (“Our little Peggy Guggenheim,” boasted a local.) With no assigned seating, we were blessedly free to float and mingle, hunting and gathering amid the mountains of delectables. Peppered throughout Rebaudengo’s home were works by her favored artists—Maurizio Cattelan, of course, but also some Allan McCollum cutouts and Charles Ray sculptures and photos. In one room, a large screen showed selections from “Stop and Go,” such as Fiona Tan’s seductive documentation of young female Japanese archers, Saint Sebastian, 2001. I chatted with Bellini and future Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler, who happily recalled convivial times in Shanghai just last year, before either had been approached about joining the dark side. The strength of this year's Artissima gives hope that perhaps this new constellation of critic-directors (Bellini, of course, but also Basel’s Spiegler and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Frieze’s Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover) will pave the way for brighter, more discerning fair programming. Or better yet, a NetJets raffle for freelance writers.

David Velasco

Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo, photographer Giulio Buono, and future Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler. Right: Dealer Amanda Wilkinson.

Left: Dealer Elizabeth Dee. Right: Fruit and Flower Deli's Rodrigo Mallea Lira and Linus Elmes.

Left: Collector Enea Righi with dealer Suzy Shammah. RIght: Portikus director Daniel Birnbaum with artist Anton Vidokle.

Left: Dealer Giò Marconi with artist Luca Trevesani. Right: Dealer Alison Jacques.

Left: Dealer Francesca Kaufmann with collector Atilio Rappa and Galleria Francesca Kaufmann's Julia Koropoulos. Right: Dealer John Connelly.

Left: Mauro Nicoletti and Costanza Mazzonis di Pralafera of Magazzino d'Arte Moderna. Right: Galleria S.A.L.E.S.'s Norberto Ruggeri.

Left: Latitudes' Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna. Right: Artist Mario Ybarra Jr.

Left: Artist David Malkjovich with dealer Annet Gelink. Right: Andrea Viliani, curator of Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, with artist Lara Favaretto.

Left: Goff + Rosenthal's Caroline Stummel. Right: Dealers Max Wigram and Michael Briggs.

Left: Wallspace Gallery's Jane Hait. Right: Perry Rubenstein gallery's Nicelle Beauchene and Perry Rubenstein.

Left: Curator Stéphanie Moisdon. Right: CANADA gallery's Sarah Braman and Phil Grauer.

Left: Bellwether's Becky Smith and Gregory Hopkins. Right: Massimo Minini's Daniella Betta.

Left: PalmaDotze's Pilar Carbonell and Anna Rovira. Right: Foxy Production's Michael Gillespie.