Grand Torino

Michela Moro around Artissima 2019

Lucrezia Calabro Visconti and Guido Costa, “Abstract Sex Exhibition.” Photo: Silvia Pastore.

RELAX AND DO IT! While large fairs in European capitals tend to be stressful and stressed out, my four days last week in Turin, the onetime hub of Arte Povera, for the lone Italian art fair dedicated solely to contemporary art, was both elegant and substantial. I just went with the flow—or flows. After sampling Artissima’s assortment of 208 galleries from 43 countries, you’d be hard-pressed to feel that you overlooked anything aesthetically fundamental in the city of Turin, apart, perhaps, from the museums and tourist spots.

Fair director Ilaria Bonacossa was a smiling, tireless cynosure in the corridors, where gallerists were focused but willing to describe their offerings. A Gentil Carioca, from Rio, showed off a booth of playful-political works by the Opavivará! collective. And amid the general thrill, some visitors risked being caught off-guard by the din of broken glass at Galleria Continua, where an incautious viewer had broken an Arcangelo Sassolino sculpture.

Princess Caroline of Monaco was the picture of royal punctuality and grace at Palazzo Madama, where she bestowed Arthur Jafa with the forty-seventh International Prize for Contemporary Art, backed by the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco, for his video Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death. The fair encompassed everything from downtown palaces to the industrial magnificence of Officine Grandi Riparazioni, a massive erstwhile railway repair shop where Monica Bonvicini’s powerful installation and performance As Walls Keep Shifting showcased the artist’s inquiries about architecture and cultural conditioning. Also on the premises was “Artissima Telephone,” an offsite project curated by Vittoria Martini recalling (no pun intended) the late John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem. It provided access to a telephonic survey of artists’ projects via rotary phone—likely a novel experience for an entire generation of Artissimans. That night, I followed Bonvicini to Tre Galline, a restaurant dating back to the Renaissance era, for a dinner fêting the sculptor. Turin, which has snagged seven Michelin stars, takes its food—and wine—seriously.  

On Friday, Castello di Rivoli hosted the event’s highest concentration of collectors and museum directors at the Manica Lunga, formerly the picture gallery of Charles Emmanuel I, duke of Savoy, in the mid-seventeenth century. On display was “Imperfect Binding,” Michael Rakowitz’s first European survey—organized by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Iwona Blazwick, and Marianna Vecellio—for which the Iraqi American artist and winner of the 2020 Nasher Prize rebound a Hebrew and Judaic Arabic prayer book from Baghdad originally assembled in 1935.  

The day flowed on to the Fondazione Merz, with its dense collection of gems by seminal poverista Emilio Prini, and to the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, where a presentation by Berlinde De Bruyckere left viewers speechless from its monumentality and the courage it clearly required, including from the Fondazione, which agreed to gut the space to accommodate the gigantic animal-hide sculptures for “Aletheia,” an ode to Eros and Thanatos. 

The evening’s high point, at least for two hundred and fifty fortunate people, was when hostess Patrizia Sandretto delivered a delicious feastrisotto with white truffle, veal cheek, dessert buffet; wines: arneis and nebbiolo—and with it a sense of familiarity and belonging too often sacrificed in the global art world. Bonacossa, who spent eight years as the curator of the Fondazione Sandretto, recalled her beginnings: “I always thought, Never stop believing in contemporary art, and Turin can be the center of the world!”

The interiors in this city are always astonishing, and the Art Deco Hotel Principe di Piemonte is no exception: On Saturday morning, the 1930s Venini-encrusted ballroom was the optimum choice for Marcello Maloberti’s installation …ma l’amor mio non muore (but my love does not die). “Abstract Sex—We don’t have any clothes, only equipment,” an exhibition in the historic Jana fashion boutique on Via Maria Vittoria, was a surprise; curators Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti and Guido Costa examined sex with a contemporary gaze that was neither obvious nor rhetorical. We appreciated the elegant survey of Paolo Icaro at the Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art before moving to the Museo Ettore Fico, where “Me Two,” a pair of exhibitions from the collection of Ernesto Esposito exemplified the passion and foresight of the Italian designer’s connoisseurship.

As night drew closer, so did we—to Franco Noero’s galleries, where more than one hundred guests were welcomed, then promptly asked to refrain from taking photographs, as the banquet tables were set up in the art warehouse around Francesco Vezzoli’s gigantic sculpture. Exhausted as we were from all the excellent food—polenta dumplings with pumpkin and Castelmagno cheese, wild salmon steak with béarnaise sauce with gin, chestnut bavarese with coulis of persimmon and rum, strawberries, small pastries; wines: arneis and nebbiolo—we were only halfway done. When the clock struck one, “Miracola,” Roberto Cuoghi’s new light work was activated, and we reached Piazza San Carlo just as five seconds of total darkness descended upon the piazza. “When I go to a fair and I’m happy, I consider it a successful fair,” said Dani Levinas, collector and chairman of the board of the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. In the light, I looked around and only saw smiling faces.

Translated by Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Ilaria Bonacossa, director of Artissima.

Chiara Appendino, Mayor of Turin.

Gallerist Mauro Nicoletti.

Gallerist Annett Gelink.

Gallerist Tucci Russo.

Designer Rodolfo Dordoni, and dealer Chiara Rusconi.

Angela and Rosita Missoni.

Collectors Marshall Coburn and Fernando Lopez.

Artist Melissa McGill.

Artists Perino&Vele.

Princess Caroline of Monaco and Arthur Jafa.

Venke and Rolf Hoff, collectors, Kaviar Factory, Lofoten, Norway.

Artist Monica Bonvicini.

Collector Sarina Tang.

Collectors Franca and Valeriano d'Urbano.

Marcella Beccaria, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and Marianna Vecellio.

Michael Rakovitz, artist.

Lorenzo Giusti, director of GAMeC, Bergamo, and Christine Macel, chief curator Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Berlinde De Bruyckere, artist.

Barbara Maccaferri, collector; Damiana Leoni of Art Basel; Giovanni Giuliani, Fondazione Giuliani; Gerard Faggionato, gallerist; Gaetano Maccaferri, collector.

Hans Ulrich Obrist and Patrizia Sandretto.

Vanity Fair Italy director Simone Marchetti and Francesca Sette.

Artists Ryan Gander and Arthur Jafa.

Irene Calderoni, curator of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

Marcello Maloberti, artist.

Ernesto Esposito, collector.

Collector Giacomo Cattaneo Adorno.