AS EVERY BORN-AND-BRED MILANESE KNOWS, Milan is a special kind of beauty: She thrives behind closed doors and reveals herself to the lucky few only after careful vetting. Milan will give you a boring and self-righteous gray facade and then a door will open into an enchanted garden where pink flamingos stare at you, or a striking art collection pretends not to be there.
And yet, this edition of MiArt, the first under the direction of Alessandro Rabottini, has somehow managed to open those doors and let an enormous amount of people in. “We knew we had the potential for amazing events, we just weren’t sure Milan had enough art-lovers to fill them!” an art PR person told me pensively on the Tuesday of MiArt week while we juggled risotto and a glass of wine in the art-filled house of art-producer and curator Paola Clerico, after fending crowds at her exhibition, appropriately named “Case Chiuse” (Closed Houses, also a reference to old Italian brothels).
Flash-rewind to five days prior: The Milano Art Week began with the conjoint openings of Monica Bonvicini’s solo show at Raffaella Cortese and “Pascali Sciamano” at Fondazione Carriero, an exhibition devoted to Pino Pascali’s relationship with African art. The venue of the foundation, which is directed by Olimpia Piccolomini, is inside Palazzo Visconti, one of the very few remaining examples of Gothic architecture in town. Parts of its interiors have been redesigned by Gae Aulenti, but the top floor still has the original Baroque décor: Here, curator Francesco Stocchi installed Pascali’s Bachi da Setola. The weekend before MiArt, the scene was also animated by the launch of an artsy perfume at the fashion-meets-art-space Marsèlleria, in collaboration with Museo Carlo Zauli, and there was a sense of anticipation that had never really accompanied MiArt before.
This year, when the actual week began, I had to pin on the fridge a schedule of all the events. On Monday, I managed to attend quite a series of exhibitions: Adrian Paci’s “The Guardians” at Chiostri di Sant’Eustorgio, where the Albanian-born artist also “invades” Cappella Portinari, an example of Lombard Renaissance. (Paci is also showing at Kaufmann Repetto.) Then Outerspace at Futurdome, a building/animated museum with many souls¬¬––the creature of curators Ginevra Bria and Atto Belloli Ardessi––that hosted ten Italian project spaces, with performances and happenings. (There, in the ultimate act of “milanesitude,” mega-curator Davide Giannella’s vernissage consisted of him playing Scopone—cards—with some friends.) Then “1+1+1,” an art and design exhibition curated by Marco Sammicheli at Elena Quarestani’s Assab One Space that brought together colorful patterned walls by British designer George Sowden, geometric paintings by the Korean Milanese artist Eung Cheun Mo, and meditative installations by Indian architect Bijoy Jain. Many fellow creative architects and designers were in attendance, from Stefano Boeri to Paola Navone. Some discussed George Sowden and Nathalie Du Pasquier’s recent collaboration with Valentino. Others discussed the connections between art and design––Milan being stronger than anywhere else––and already gearing up for Salone del Mobile week.
From Via Assab, getting to M77 Gallery on via Mecenate (next to the brand-new Gucci Hub) meant riding with friends in a taxi on the Tangenziale, the external ring highway. This was the first hint that the week would drive me more and more often outside the Cerchia, the internal circle of roads that conceptually separate Centro Storico from the rest of Italy. At M77, a solo show by Flavio De Marco brought together a generation of Italian painters and friends: Velasco Vitali, Marco Petrus, Giovanni Frangi, and Alessandro Papetti. In the afternoon, I missed Diego Perrone and Piero Golia’s workshop on Chris Burden, curated by Paola Nicolin at the Classroom, and at 9 PM I barely managed to make it to dealer Flavio del Monte’s birthday party, the unofficial start of the week’s artsy social events. The Botanical Club, in the quickly gentrifying neighborhood Isola (once an artists’ retreat), looked like a relaxed HQ for MiArt, with dealers, curators, designers, artists, museum directors, VIP managers, locally brewed spirits, and risotto.
Alessandro Rabottini, who inherited a renewed MiArt from his predecessor, Vincenzo de Bellis—lured abroad by the Walker Art center in Minneapolis but very present at every event—along with very high expectations, was about to enter when I arrived. His look of slight concern, that of a perfectionist, would fade only toward the week’s end, when it became clear that Milan responded with enthusiasm to his careful construction of an event that could rival more global ones and redefine Italy’s art-market scene.
On Tuesday, I carefully planned my tours to avoid taxi rides along the Tangenziale and began with Riccardo Crespi’s “The Uninhabitants,” featuring textile works by Patrizia Giambi and Patrizia Dal Re as well as an installation by Gal Weinstein—an opportunity to hear the dealer explain the Israeli pavilion of the Venice Biennale. The following stop was Francesco Pantaleone’s new venue near Porta Romana: The Sicilian dealer debuted with a solo show by Liliana Moro, whose minimal drawings of dogs have also found their way onto Pantaleone’s arms in the form of tattoos. Then it was Case Chiuse time: a mobile project where artist Gabriele De Santis installed in, of course, a secret garden, belonging to collectors Vautrin and Vudafieri, a little flock of small polymateric parrots, which you could buy for one hundred euros and name after someone you loved and lost. By the time I arrived at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea later that night, the crowd assaulting Santiago Sierra’s show had almost dissipated. Almost.
Wednesday began in one of Milan’s most unusual art places, Albergo Diurno Venezia, a former underground Liberty day hotel that used to welcome travelers with showers and mani-pedi services and which now belongs to the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano. After last year’s Sarah Lucas site-specific installation, this year the FAI exhibited Flavio Favelli’s Senso 80, hybrid furniture pieces made of marble and hand-painted old tiles, and a series of old Coca-Cola billboards. (Favelli is also showing at Francesca Minini’s, in the other arts district, Lambrate Ventura).
Later that day, Daniele Innamorato opened at Marsèlleria and Paola Pivi launched her site-specific windows at La Rinascente, the historic department store in Piazza del Duomo. On the rooftop, a jet-set cocktail welcomed Milanese socialites and made it clear that big Italian brands are quickly learning to team up with blue-chip galleries and artists.
At the same time, a super-crowded preview of Christie’s Modern and Contemporary auction was happening at the other side of Piazza del Duomo. Museo del Novecento, inside the Arengario building, was the most coveted invite of the evening, with the vernissage of Warhol’s “Sixty Last Suppers.” Gagosian was hosting a dinner on the breathtaking terrace of Giacomo Arengario, with director Pepi Marchetti Franchi greeting guests at the entrance. Among them was Madeinart CEO Consuelo Nocita, who produced Keith Haring’s “About Art” for the nearby Palazzo Reale, curated by Gianni Mercurio, another blockbuster that opened in late February with two days of receptions and parties for international collectors.
After Gagosian’s high-end crowd, there was a big jump to Porta Venezia again. Massimo De Carlo chose Trattoria Trombetta to host the dinner in honor of Liu Xiaodong, who is showing his “Chittagong” series at the dealer’s new Palazzo Borromeo venue. Liu’s close friend Yan Pei-Ming attended the (risotto) dinner, along with Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, MiArt liaison Oda Albera, and Rabottini. A few days later, De Carlo would send out the announcement of an even newer venue: the Portaluppi-designed Casa Corbellini Wassermann in Viale Lombardia.
MiArt’s opening on Thursday had somehow become the least stressful day of the week. Energy levels were high, big names like Gladstone and Marianne Boesky joined the ranks. More than 40 percent of the dealers were foreign, more than forty-five thousand people were to attend, and acquisitions from private and public art funds are growing, especially for Italian artists—Fondazione Fiera Milano’s international committee chose a work by sculptor Chiara Camoni.
The offerings at MiArt, with 174 exhibitors, spanned from large-scale wall sculptures by Agostino Bonalumi (“He did this when Anish Kapoor was seven years old,” Davide Mazzoleni proudly told me) to a Nanda Vigo solo show at Allegra Ravizza’s to performances such as Riccardo Buscarini’s “horizontal storytelling” at Nahmad Projects. The rest of the afternoon was given to visiting Frigoriferi Milanesi for the vernissage of “The White Hunter,” a show about memories and representations of Africa curated by Marco Scotini. From there I headed toward Brera for the dinner hosted on Via Fiori Chiari by Kaufmann Repetto, Andrew Kreps, Sadie Coles, and Gladstone, where I sat between dealer Emanuela Campoli and Castello di Rivoli curator Marianna Vecellio, ate completely raw tagliata, and discussed the “new” Milan and Biennale participations.
Wanting to experience my hometown with fresh eyes, I had also signed myself up for the VIP program, which, to my horror, started at 8.30 AM the next morning. After a quick breakfast with Sofia Bertilsson from Copenhagen’s Wanås Foundation, I boarded the bus with an Ecuadorian collector who confessed he skipped the previous night’s vernissages to go to La Scala. Other voices on the bus joined in praise of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, and it made me think that Milan has so many iconic experiences to offer that it’s about time it headlined the circuit of global art destinations. We visited Fondazione Prada and had more cappuccinos at Wes Anderson’s Bar Luce, and by Friday night I was more exhausted than I was in Miami or Hong Kong—and just as jet-lagged. I skipped tightly scheduled visits to private collections Sabbadini and Consolandi to attend Lisson Gallery’s opening of Spencer Finch’s solo show, which extends inside Orti di Leonardo—named after Da Vinci, who lived there when he was painting The Last Supper across the street for Ludovico il Moro.
On Saturday I saved my energy for what I feared would be a very formal occasion: Beatrice Bulgari’s dinner at Armani in via Manzoni. Her production company In Between Art Film has been supporting the work of many Italian artists and is a partner of MiArt Talks. The conversation at my table, however, was informal and interesting. Rabottini discussed the future of Fondazione Fiera Milano’s collection with its president, Giovanni Gorno Tempini, while curator Beatriz Colomina talked biennials with Diana Campbell Betancourt, curator of MiArt’s conversations program. I was so taken that I forgot to leave in time for Trim’s concert at Hangar Bicocca—the musician was invited by Laure Prouvost. Hangar was also showing Miroslaw Balka, which I will visit when I recover from this tour de force. The evening continued at the traditional Milanese Bar Basso, where spring fever was in full swing. The video duo Masbedo discussed the best art destinations (“Belgrade is the new Berlin, Reykjavik the new Belgrade”), and Viennese curators asked me the address of Fondazione Trussardi. It is an idea, not a place, I explained, remembering all those years when I thought I was living on the outskirts of the art scene. Now that feeling is gone, and we all toasted to Milano’s renaissance with Sbagliato, a stronger version of a Negroni served in giant glasses. That’s maybe why I missed my VIP bus on Sunday morning: It would have taken me to several Milanese churches, from San Fedele to Chiesa Rossa. But the day was full anyway, as Art Week began to overlap with Design.
The final highlight of my week was, again, in a secret place near Porta Venezia: the building recently acquired by Fondazione Rovati, Palazzo Bocconi-Rizzoli-Carraro, the future venue of the Etruscan Museum of Milan. I toured the Piano Nobile rooms with their original interiors: When finished, the museum will feature 35,000 square feet of exhibition spaces, which will extend underground, where the Rovati will dig to build a subterranean dome that will be visible from the garden. For now, it hosted Paul Cocksedge’s “Excavation: Evicted,” a design project wanted by Beatrice Trussardi, who in two weeks will also inaugurate “Terra Inquieta,” Massimiliano Gioni’s exhibition focused on conflicts and migrants, at the Triennale. The design crowd had by then invaded Milan: A critic I previously held in the highest esteem looked very interested in Cocksedge’s reclaimed tiles but yawned when I mentioned Etruscan vases, then told me serenely he had never been to the Venice Biennale, and wasn’t planning to. Nobody seemed to mind. That’s how I knew that MiArt week was over, at last.