Fresh Start


Left: Art advisor Francesca Ferrarini and dealer Chiara Repetto. Right: Clockwise, left to right: Collectors Lorenzo Paini and Giuseppina Girardi, dealer Ludovica Barbieri, dealer Verusca Piazzesi, artist Massimo Bartolini, and a friend. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

ARRIVING IN MILAN at rush hour the Thursday before Fashion Week proved to be a logistical adventure. All of the galleries were open late for “Start Milano,” a collective inauguration of the fall shows. “The fashion traffic chaos has already begun,” Massimo De Carlo explained when I finally arrived at his gallery, in the former industrial district Lambrate. “It is no problem getting around with a bike!” shared artist Cristian Bugatti, aka pop star Bugo, who arrived breathless a few moments later. In the context, Massimo Bartolini’s installation upstairs—an entire room laced with pulsating religious festival lights that evoked a nighttime urban map—made all the more sense.

Across the street I stopped at Francesca Minini, where Simon Dybbroe Møller’s “O” featured a Dadaesque assemblage of objects in transparent boxes stacked in human shape, while next door at Galleria Enrico Fornello, Sara MacKillop had animated banal office supplies, making a bunch of file folders climb the wall and insectlike X-Acto knives huddle in a corner. Halfway across town, Kaufmann Repetto was opening a show featuring Yoshua Okón’s Octopus, an anachronistic but strangely compelling film of Guatemalan commandos reenacting their war experiences in a Home Depot parking lot. Others spoke highly of Stefano Arienti’s leaning canvases at Studio Guenzani and Ross Lovegrove’s organic designs at Cardi Black Box. The gallery crowds seemed thin on the ground, certainly dispersed by the wealth of receptions around the city. “It’s not helpful if all the gallery openings are on the same night,” critic Gabriele Guercio complained. “You need a helicopter to get around.”

Left: Artist Simon Dybbroe Møller with dealer Francesca Minini. Right: Artist Reto Pulfer and dealer Giulia Ruberti.

Milanese galleries are more or less clustered in several far-flung districts, the area around the Giardini Montanelli being the most populous these days. (Lia Rumma has thrown a wrench in by moving to an isolated industrial space behind the Porta Garibaldi train station.) In my travails around the city, I made friends with a few taxi drivers and finally arrived at the Zero gallery, where people were gingerly making their way around Amir Mogharabi’s mysterious “Al Di Là” (Beyond), an arrangement of paintings and shards of glass and stone inspired by Picasso’s portrait of a woman in white. “The new space is kind of rough, so I let the artists do whatever they want with it,” explained proprietor Paolo Zani, who has moved the gallery around town a few times.

After commiserating with dealer Magnus Edensvard about the odyssey from Malpensa airport, I joined the Massimo De Carlo entourage—which would migrate to Rome the following week for “Tre Amigos”—at the cozy Il Gattò restaurant, tucked behind a clothing boutique. People wafted in during various courses of the meal, among them MDC partner Ludovica Barbieri, critic Cloe Piccoli, curator Andrea Viliani, and Galleria Continua’s Verusca Piazzesi. Critic Mike Watson got there just in time for the linguine al pesto: “Thank God I finally found this place.” He had come from the new Lisson Gallery preview, where “there were more PR people than artists. I felt like writing a review on them.”

The next day I made it to another show that would be hitting the road to Rome, both literally and figuratively: Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Carlo’s Vision, at the nonprofit space Peep-Hole. (Its Roman debut was slated for the following week at the Nomas Foundation.) Inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s unfinished opus Petrolio, it depicts the alienation of urban life in a city fragmented by a disconnected transportation system. I could relate. “Good journey!” a fellow viewer said as I left, perhaps sensing that I was on a pilgrimage. After stopping by the Swiss Institute, where artist Reto Pulfer was preparing to stage a performance in a sheet-sheathed room, I made my way to the new Lisson Gallery—on the opposite side of town, of course.

Left: Dealer Annette Hofmann, architect Filippo Taidelli, Letizia Castellini, and Nicholas Logsdail. Right: The opening dinner for Lisson in Milan.

As soon as I got to the street, which ends at the grandly rotund church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, it felt like a different century. “It is a metaphysical zone,” one writer had explained that day over coffee, “that exists in its own time outside of reality.” The gritty grayness and hustle of Milan magically disappeared, like a veil being lifted. The gallery is behind the Palazzo degli Atellani, where Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked on The Last Supper, which now hangs in the monastery across the street. The inaugural group exhibition, “I know about creative block but I know not to call it by name,” was about the process and selling of art, in a space that resembled more a sleek boutique than a gallery. Irwin Green’s fake exhibition title rhymed nicely with Jonathan Monk’s art labels rendered in marble, while Cory Arcangel’s Body Talk—in which the artist sprayed press releases with a cheap men’s cologne—recalled Francesco Vezzoli’s installation of faux perfume, “Greed,” at Gagosian’s Rome space, another foreign gallery whose opening in Italy incited puzzled curiosity.

Milan was uncharacteristically sultry, and the palazzo’s garden was decked out for the dinner with candles and flower arrangements and a jazz band. “It’s like a wedding,” art advisor Francesca Ferrarini said as we surveyed the scene. A minute later, curator Gabi Scardi arrived: “It looks like a wedding!” she exclaimed. It was, in any case, certainly a family affair: The new space’s director, Annette Hofmann, is friends with the family that owns the enchanting palazzo and adjacent gallery building. That may help explain why Lisson decided to open an unlikely foreign outpost after forty-four years based solely in London. As Lisson founder Nicholas Logsdail noted earlier that day, “The Italians and the English have always liked each other.”

Left: Artist Ryan Gander with dealer Alex Logsdail. Right: Artists Haroon Mirza and Jonathan Monk.

After Hofmann and Logsdail spoke to the guests about the “magic dust” the atmosphere of the place would confer on their artists’ productivity, we wandered around the palazzo, which was stately—one salon was covered entirely in ornately carved wood—and yet clearly lived in, evidenced by charmingly mismatched floral divans. Out in the garden, a former vineyard where Leonardo hung out and procrastinated, Ryan Gander revealed his own cure for creative block: tweeting ideas for artworks. “In fact, I may retire and do only that,” he said. A sampling: “DING: Van Gogh wearing fake Beethoven ears.” Doesn’t he mean Mona Lisa with a mustache? Well, it’s all in how you do it. Around midnight I scored a limo lift home with Alex and Nicholas Logsdail, the latter noting wearily that he was “astonished by how much people think it’s going to shake things up here.” It was only the First Supper, after all, so time will tell.

Before heading south to Rome on Saturday, I stopped back in Leonardo’s neighborhood, where the Riccardo Crespi gallery was presenting a Francesca Grilli show curated by Scardi. The exhibition is a meditation on alchemy and transformation via an enchanting video of a falcon recounting the story of King Midas in the ancient whistled language Silbo Gomero. Metal feathers here and there echoed the opening performance, during which the artist let loose two falcons. Over pizza, Crespi complained about the coming tumult: “Design week opens the whole city up with interesting events for everyone, whereas Fashion Week is just a bunch of exclusive parties that cause traffic jams for everyone else.” Just as I entered the Milan train station, lightning and thunder signaled the start of a torrential rain that would welcome the invading fashionistas.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Curator Gabi Scardi. Right: Swiss consul Massimo Baggi and Christoph Riedweg, director of Swiss Institute.