Nice Job

Myriam Ben Salah at the 18th edition of MiArt

Left: Dealer Frank Elbaz. Right: Qbox's Daphne Kouri and Myrtia Nikolakopoulou with curator Paolo Colombo.

“SOMETHING NICE IS HAPPENING IN MILAN,” read the VIP tote bags for the eighteenth edition of MiArt. Usually nice things happening in Milan involve fashion or design, sometimes food, often partying, but hardly ever art fairs. In spite of the city’s dynamic constellation of galleries and vibrant art scene, prior editions of MiArt didn’t quite hit the mark. That said, a local confidant insisted that this year’s edition would be worth an (easyJet) flight, asserting that its newly appointed director, curator and critic Vincenzo de Bellis, was planning to make more than nice.

It doesn’t take much to convince me to travel to Italy. (Isn’t a four-course trattoria meal with a dolce della casa enough?) So there I was on Wednesday, rushing to the Malpensa shuttle to make it in time for the antipasto: Federico Vavassori’s opening of “Macho Amore,” an Italian debut for German artist Sarah Ortmeyer organized by French curator Simon Castets. This younger-than-Jesus trio was symptomatic of the fresh (and international) reboot one sensed throughout the week. Ortmeyer’s intricate draperies conjured the choreographed hostility of Milan’s two rival soccer teams, and drew into the gallery’s small space an eclectic crowd ranging from collector Josef Dalle Nogare to model Afef Jnifen and no less an icon than fashion priestess Franca Sozzani.

A drink at Bar Basso and a piadina later and I was running to join Gelitin’s highly anticipated kickoff to “Liberi Tutti,” Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s performance festival at Teatro Arsenale, a revivified Milanese architectural jewel. In the cab, a text message warned that there was a queue around the block; the only way to cut the line was to volunteer for what my informant called a “pen in the ass” experience. (Or a “pennello nel culo” as Gelitin’s Ali Janka put it later in Italian, which to my ears sounded like the refrain to a Lucio Battisti song.) Tempting. But I opted for another route into the colorful bacchanal, in which the very bon chic bon genre Trussardi public was getting portrayed by assholes, literally, as the Gelitins stood with paintbrushes stuck in their behinds, charging €100 for each Ritratto Analitico.

Left: Supportico Lopez's Gigiotto Del Vecchio and Stefania Palumbo. Right: Toilet Paper's Pierpaolo Ferrari.

The next day, the Fiera Milano City pavilion hosting MiArt felt like a dolce vita version of an art fair: human sized, sanguine, pleasantly populated, and bright. (I won’t say “sunny”; the closest we got to spring was an ersatz bird-and-flower installation by Andrea Branzi at Isabella Bortolozzi’s booth.) The only snag seemed to be the food, which, according to dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth, resembled Autogrill highway snacks more than Italian cucina.

But the art was grand. With forty new galleries and fifty-five international exhibitors, de Bellis was determined to turn MiArt into a lodestar on the perpetual art pilgrimage. There were the traditional Established and Emergent programs, as well as Object and THENnow, an invite-only section organized by FRAC Champagne-Ardennes’s Florence Derieux and MADRE Napoli’s Andrea Viliani. The curators paired galleries around nine combinations of artists from different generations, with surprising results: Haim Steinbach and Darren Bader took over at Lia Rumma and Franco Noero’s shared booth, Goshka Macuga and Miroslav Tichý were with Andrew Kreps and Guido Costa, and Guy de Cointet and Silke Otto-Knapp buddied up at Air de Paris and greengrassi.

Although some dealers bragged that they “made good contacts” (international artspeak for OK sales), there were plenty of solid collectors in the mix. The Missonis and the Trussardis were au rendezvous; they, along with a group of international first-timers, established MiArt 2.0 as a major art event if not already a hyperprofitable operation.

Left: Gelitin's Salvatore Viviano. Right: Curator Davide Giannella and artist Yuri Ancarani.

Evening plans were beginning to take shape and revelers debated Bader’s Trussardi performance or the “full Milanese experience,” which included dropping by the Chanel fashion bash at the beautiful Rotonda della Besana. “They’re planning a surprise concert,” winked Castets. “It could be Grace Jones, you know.” I opted for a Toilet Paper experience instead, following photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari on (what I thought was) a simple location scouting trip that turned into an amusing escapade at an old neighborhood strip club. Except for the crowd, it was not so different from the night before: more naked people performing in a historic location. We finished it all off with pretty much everyone else in Milan at Bar Basso, where we spritz-toasted artist Nikolas Gambaroff on his show, launching the next night at Gió Marconi.

He wasn’t the only one being feted: Friday was openings night—a logistical challenge in Milan, where the “gallery district” spreads from central Brera to the Lambrate former industrial zone and Simonetta’s hip no-man’s-land. There, in Via Stilicone, Steinbach took over an incredible three floors at Lia Rumma’s new space, while on the other side of the street, right inside the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia (the town’s oldest foundry), was the up-and-coming PeepHole, founded by de Bellis. (MiArt’s director is obviously hell-bent in his mission to make something nice happen in Milan.)

Left: Dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth. Right: Fashion designer Massimo Giorgetti and Alexander May.

I was lucky enough to get the funniest ride around town. “Once you’ve been a driver during Milan Fashion Week, you can handle pretty much any traffic situation,” said our guide as he navigated the tricky circuit—we wanted to see it all! We worked our way through Carlo Benvenuto at Suzy Shammah and Manuel Scano at Room Galleria, from Luisa Lambri at Studio Guenzani to Nikolas Gambaroff at Gió Marconi. It was a miracle we made it to Massimo Grimaldi at Zero and Thomas Zipp at Kaufmann Repetto, where I dropped my charming company before heading to Massimo De Carlo’s dinner for Sanford Biggers at Trattoria Il Carpaccio. Incredibly (refreshingly?), no naked butts that night, though I was seated at Gelitin’s table.

I returned the next night to explore the restaurant’s front window, a tiny and buoyant art showcase called Il Crepaccio (translated literally as “the crevasse”). For over a year, this hole in the wall has been (semi-) secretly featuring the works of emerging local artists. Openings would get more and more crowded, but no one had a clue who was behind it. Finally, on Saturday, curator Caroline Corbetta came out about her mothering the project (but who’s the father . . . ?), and we all settled in to enjoy the show, a selection of videos made by students of Yuri Ancarani. Nothing to sell but lots to admire—food, art, sparkling wit, and of course prosecco: The sidewalks were cheerfully crowded and Milan never looked so alive to me.

“Nice” is one way to put it—I preferred “brilliant.”

Left: Peep Hole's Stefania Scarpini. Right: Collectors Enea Righi and Lorenzo Paini.

Left: Giorgiana Ravizza and designer Renato Preti. Right: Artist Sarah Ortmeyer.

Left: Dealer James Gardner (second from left) and friends. Right: Dealer Benedetta Spalletti.

Left: Collector Maurizio Morra Greco and Supportico Lopez's Gigiotto Del Vecchio. Right: Collector Giorgio Fasol.

Left: Dealer Cornelia Grassi. Right: Artist Gianni Caravaggio and Caroline Corbetta.

Left: Dealer Daniella Minini. Right: Dealer Nina Yashar.

Left: Artist Alexander May. Right: Architect Massimiliano Locatelli, Vogue Italy's Franca Sozzani, and model Afef Jnifen.

Left: Air de Paris's Florence Bonnefous and Edouard Merino. Right: Dealer Giorgio Marconi.

Left: Gelitin performs at Teatro Arsenale. Right: MiArt director Vincenzo de Bellis. (All photos: Myriam Ben Salah)

Left: Dealers Francesco Pantaleone and Norberto Ruggeri. Right: Dealer Guido Costa.

Left: Collector Angela Missoni, dealer Chiara Rusconi, and Vogue Italy's Mariuccia Casadio. Right: Artist Nikolas Gambaroff.

Left: Dealer Isabella Bortolozzi and ABC Berlin director Maike Cruse. Right: Cardi Black Box's Edoardo Osculati with Paride Vitale and Ettore.

Left: Il Crepaccio opening. Right: Dealer Paola Capata (Monitor) and Beyond Entropy's Stefano Rabolli Pansera.

Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps and artist Goshka Macuga. Right: Elisa Miotti and dealer Francesca Minini.

Left: Massimo De Carlo's Laura Ravelli and Flavio del Monte with artist Sanford Biggers. Right: Curator Caroline Corbetta and artist Yuri Ancarani.

Left: Dealer Suzy Shammah and collector Massimo Trabaldo Togna. Right: Dealer Federico Vavassori and curator Simon Castets.

Left: MADRE's Andrea Viliani. Right: Dealer Gió Marconi.

Left: Dealer Franco Toselli. Right: Dealer Chiara Repetto, Art Cologne director Daniel Hug, dealer Francesca Kaufmann, and the Repetto Family.