Turin About


Left: Turin Triennial curator Daniel Birnbaum with artist Paul Chan. Right: Artist Mika Tajima. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos: Kyle Bentley)

THAT EVERYONE WOULD SOON TIRE of those baggy exhibitions and themes, those endless fairs and “satellite projects,” was predictable. That their attitude would shift right around when the market did was predictable too. What was hard to foresee was that the market shift would produce a tidal wave bringing an electoral landslide for Barack Obama and then a dopamine flood overcoming the art world, significantly softening the economic blow. Some new words one heard at the second Torino Triennale (known as T2, like Judgment Day) and the fifteenth Artissima fair were manageable, sustainable, and realistic, and the relief with which even dealers exhaled them seemed surprisingly genuine, if inextricable from a heady moment.

I got the election news obliquely, in brief dispatches. I had voted Tuesday morning; flown out late that afternoon on Air France, and learned of the winner, around 7 AM Paris time, from an onboard announcement; caught glimpses of confetti on TV monitors at Charles de Gaulle; scanned front pages of day-old newspapers, expecting, with the confusion of temporal displacement, that they would register news that was actually still breaking; and found that, on landing in Turin, I could only drop my bags at the hotel before heading to the Promotrice delle Belle Arti, one of three triennial venues, for the press conference.

White House details quickly percolated into that Neoclassical palazzo. The people there, few American, at least by birth, compared numbers, fact-checked on iPhones, tilted screens displaying mostly blue maps toward one another. Dopamine levels remained high despite the tone of the surrounding show, called “50 Moons of Saturn,” which pulls works into orbit around that mythically melancholic rock. Perhaps sensing the dissonance, Daniel Birnbaum, the show’s curator, reminded the audience that first morning: “Melancholy is not depression; it’s about transformation, and the world is right now transforming rather radically . . . it’s very much about creativity and producing new things.” (The show itself is a transmutation of Birnbaum’s first book, written with Anders Olsson and recently translated into English: As a Weasel Sucks Eggs: An Essay on Melancholy and Cannibalism.)

Left: Dealer Chantal Crousel with collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: Dealer Alexander Gray.

The Promotrice held the most focused of the three presentations. There were flaming Wade Guytons; weird Gert and Uwe Tobiases; Jordan Wolfson’s film Untitled False Document, a conceptual feedback loop. The next venue on the tour was the Fondazione Sandretto, owned by compact Turin collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and featuring for the triennial a Paul Chan minisurvey, not particularly fresh for many visitors but probably more so for local audiences (it was apparently the artist’s first such show in Italy). Sandretto Re Rebaudengo happily talked with guests despite a voice hoarse, she strained out, “from shouting ‘Obama!’”

By the third venue, the grand Castello di Rivoli (which held, in addition to a group show, the triennial’s other big solo project, a light installation by Olafur Eliasson), the wall texts were beginning to jumble: “subjective experience,” “cultural identity,” “religion,” “personal history and historical memory.” “Constructed” and “reworked.” “Wittgenstein” and “Lacan.” On reading that “the attempt to restore meaning to a fluctuating existence is concretized in the objectivized presence of the works exhibited,” I decided to pack up.

It was Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo who had the party that night. There were official opening receptions at the triennial venues, but many people skipped those for quick cosmetic reparations in hotel rooms, showing up at the collector’s palazzo and spilling through a foyer decorated with Maurizio Cattelans, into a side room with Matthew Barneys and a Fiona Tan, and into a sala da pranzo with Allan McCollums. The Vanity Fair photographers were as pushy as ever. “Check out the pool downstairs,” Paul Chan side-mouthed to me. I did; it was triangular. Dinner for three hundred followed under the tent in the garden. It was molto Italiano: many courses, perhaps cooked, in part, by the hostess’s mother (who has apparently helped out at such events before). But the gathering was for extended relations too; a government figure, for example, brought two women, one blonde and one brunette, neither his wife, their tanned skin richly made up, and their style running more to spike heels than to mink stoles.

Left: Artist Piero Golia; Charlotte Laubard, director of the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux; and Artissima director Andrea Bellini. Right: Domus director Flavio Albanese.

The next morning, the triennial gave way to Artissima, which is not to say melancholy gave way to cannibalism (an activity often associated with art fairs). The fair, in fact, was so well selected and relaxed that it hardly resembled the blind consumptive beast we have come to expect in recent years. Often noted was the “curation,” not “direction,” of Andrea Bellini, then in his second year of organizing the event, and perhaps, he mentioned, his second to last. (Domus director Flavio Albanese speculated that Bellini might move on to a post at the Castello di Rivoli.) In addition to gallery booths (128 of them, a downsize from last year’s 131, which itself had been a significant downsize from the prior year’s 172), the fair had some small, curated projects, including a section devoted to young Italian artists without gallery representation; a retrospective of photographs by Paolo Mussat Sartor, documentarian of artists (most significantly those of Turin’s homegrown movement, arte povera); and an exhibition of work by young artists, such as Carter Mull, Stephen G. Rhodes, and Sara Barker, whose dealers were all invited to participate at a discount.

Bellini strolled the aisles in his blue suit and a tie by Jack Emerson, local kingpin of menswear. He mentioned that the fair, when it had around two hundred galleries, “was shit” and that the city representatives had come to him saying, “We don’t care about money; make it good, make it a cultural event.” The curatorial and more outwardly commercial forces work together in the fair, Bellini argued, as they have throughout art for centuries. “Giotto was a superstar,” he said. “Like the Jeff Koons of his time. He was a motherfucker—all those girls!”

Left: Dealer James Fuentes. Right: Artists Carter Mull and Mateo Tannatt.

But what about the dealers. “Usually,” claimed Francesco Stocchi, “they won’t talk to you if it’s sell, sell, sell. They’re, like, curators? Not today. But now?” Those in booths did seem happy to talk at length about their artists, when not twirling their pens or spacing out. Alexander Gray, in from New York, said that he welcomed the more relaxed pace and that people were in fact still buying. “This is the future,” he said. “The niche fair. No more developing, no more speculation.” The fair was in rich dialogue with Turin’s established art collectors, who, one visitor noted, were known for supporting “difficult work” (and for returning on the last day to haggle). Nascent New York dealer James Fuentes had come, he said, to establish roots in the fertile area rather than to sell out his booth. “Meet just one collector and it’s worth the trip.”

One gallery worker, pointing to the white walls, which were a good deal higher this year, noted: “Andrea wanted to build an art city,” and it seemed he had. I imagine the walls are actually high enough to dam the flood.

Kyle Bentley

Left: Dealer Kamel Mennour. Right: Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan, artist Tino Sehgal, and curator Stéphanie Moisdon. (Photo: Lillian Davies)

Left: Artists Loris Gréaud and Jordan Wolfson. Right: Dealers Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling. (Photo: Lillian Davies)

Left: Artist Tim Hull. Right: Artist Donald Urquhart with Herald St.'s Nicky Verber.

Left: Palais de Tokyo director Marc Olivier-Wahler. Right: Present Future curators Thibaut Verhoeven, Aurélie Voltz, Michael Ned Holte, and Cecilia Alemani.

Left: Dealer Elizabeth Dee with Mika Tajima. Right: Latitudes's Mariana Cánepa Luna, Jennifer Chert, and Latitudes's Max Andrews. (Photo: Lillian Davies)

Left: Feinkost's Aaron Moulton. Right: Marina Bassano, dealer Francesca Kauffmann, Ernesto Esposito, and Chiara Repetto.

Left: Artist Vittorio Santoro and dealer Lucile Corty. (Photo: Lillian Davies) Right: Artists Amanda Reiner and Justin Matherly with Dispatch's Gabrielle Giattino.