IN TURIN DURING ARTISSIMA, one witnessed the former Italian capital’s classic, formal, symmetrical attributes pushing against its contemporary, strange, often (literally) underground side.
My tour began with the esoteric: “Paranormal,” the exhibition Tony Oursler devoted to Gustavo Rol, an “affluent middle-class art lover and painter” who was born in Turin in 1903 and spent his life delving into the occult. The show opened at Pinacoteca Agnelli with a selection from Oursler’s personal collection of paranormal ephemera (comprising fifteen thousand pieces) showcased alongside the artist’s new cycle of works, “Ex Voto,” inspired by a visit to Turin’s Chiesa della Consolata. It was a visual game contrasting Oursler’s and Rol’s belief systems, and the conversation with the American artist quickly turned from playful ghosts and ESP to pseudo-scienceand Trump.
From there (Lingotto, not Trump), Artissima was a short walk away. A few minutes after the opening of the VIP preview, the fair was already going strong: Its twenty-fourth edition featured 206 galleries from thirty-two countries (with more than half non-Italian dealers); a works-on-paper section, “Disegni,” aimed at younger collectors; and high-ranking new entries including Victoria Miro, who recently opened a space in Venice, plus the usual impressive array of Italian and global curators: Chus Martínez, Andrea Viliani, Francesco Manacorda, Anna Daneri, Cloé Perrone, and Abaseh Mirvali, among others.
The new director Ilaria Bonacossa arrived from her post as head of Museo di Villa Croce in Genova. She has expanded the exhibition spaces inside the Oval, built for the 2006 Winter Olympics, introducing “Piper: Learning at the Discoteque,” a fresh update of the talks program guided by curator Paola Nicolin, and “Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente,” a temporary warehouse with works by 128 Italian artists from 1994 to the presentan homage to Gian Enzo Sperone’s 1967–68 initiative, when the dealer was working with local artists such as Piero Gilardi and Michelangelo Pistoletto. As usual, Sperone himself was among the Turinese exhibitorsnot at Artissima but at Flashback, a five-year-old fair organized by Stefania Poddighe and Ginevra Pucci whose slogan is “All art is contemporary.”
The success of satellite fairsthe hypercurated Dama at Palazzo Saluzzo Paesana, the unorthodox the Others in the former hospital Maria Adelaide, the Design fair Operae, and the new art book fair FLAT at Palazzo Cisternaevinced Artissima’s power of attraction. Fifty-two thousand visitors visited Artissima, and at least five thousand of them enjoyed Turin’s ever-growing hotel and restaurant scene (too bad this was a measly year for truffles).
For the first time in years, there was a sense that more things were happening outside the Oval. Art travelers were challenged by an eighteen-hour-day schedule that began with artsy breakfasts: Franco Noero provided an early-morning shuttle between via Mottalciata (on show: Andrew Dadson) and Piazza Carignano (Pablo Bronstein), while at the historic Ristorante Del Cambio, pastry chef Raphael Castoriano produced Ladurée macaroons customized to individual tastes.
The night of Artissima’s opening, a cluster of curatorsPolly Staple from Chisenhale, Diana Baldon from Galleria Civica di Modena, Iwona Blazwick from Whitechapelturned up for “Through the Looking Glass,” Artuner’s vernissage at Palazzo Capris, hosted by scion Eugenio Re Rebaudengo. From there it was on to institutional dinnersI was invited to Elisa Sighicelli’s studio, where many interesting women from the arts gathered: Sighicelli’s dealer, Gagosian’s Pepi Marchetti Franchi, NY Cima director Heather Ewing, Castello di Rivoli curator Marcella Beccaria, and Elena Geuna, Damien Hirst’s curator for his Palazzo Grassi show.
At 11 PM we all moved to Circolo Canottieri Esperia by the Po River, the venue of “After Artissima.” You could either stand and chill on the terrace by a smelly Pizza Fritta stall, looking at Turin reflect in the waters of the river, or get a drink card from Bonacossa herself and dance. But the night did not end there: I had initially laughed at an invitation for a 1 AM live performance with Kamasi Washington, Powell, and Wolfgang Tillmans, but when I checked the time it was already past 2: too late to join the crowds at the principal responsible for this surplus of energy, the much-awaited new Officine Grandi Riparazioni.
The former OGR, owned by Fondazione CRT and always the venue for amazing late-night parties, officially opened in October after a massive conversion—twenty thousand square meters, one hundred million euros, and three yearsbut they waited until this week to launch their inaugural exhibition. The visual arts program of this giant, whose scale and versatility is unprecedented in Italy, has been put in the hands of thirty-one-year-old curator Nicola Ricciardi, a former Bard College alum, in spite of many bigwigs interested in the position. Ricciardi, in charge of an amazing (and amazingly difficult) space described by some as “the cathedral of Turin’s industrial history” and compared to Venice’s Corderie dell’Arsenale, appointed three curators for the first show: Tom Eccles, Mark Rappolt, and artist Liam Gillick. Their “Like a Moth to a Flame” is named after one of the artworks on view, Cerith Wyn Evans’s palindromic neon riddle that reads, in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, a reference to creatures of the night.
“Tom Eccles and I wanted to acknowledge Turin as a town of collectors, and we began browsing Turinese museums together,” Ricciardi recalled. Those museums have now lent major pieces: The “Moth” features works by fifty-four artists and is an ideal self-portrait of Turin through the collections of Museo Egizio, Palazzo Madama, MAO, GAM, and Castello di Rivoli. When OGR’s gates opened for a Friday morning preview, a giant Egyptian Tuthmoside head from 1425 BCE towered in the first room (its empty space inside the museum has been filled by piece of similar dimensions by Mark Manders). Paweł Althamers’s wax sculptures stood side by side with Chinese Han figures from the second century BCE and polychrome wood pieces from the Italian Renaissance, while Paola Pivi’s feathery bear lay a few yards from Carsten Holler’s mushrooms, Hirst’s butterflies, a Mona Hatoum hair necklace, and a 1972 Fiat 126 suspended by Simon Starling.
The musical twin to OGR’s visuals is an intense “Avant-Pop” program, curated by Club to Club founder Sergio Ricciardone, that began attracting crowds a month ago, with artists including Giorgio Moroder, Alva Noto, and the Chemical Brothers. During Art Week, it hosted a series of super-packed concerts by Kraftwerk, where Instagrammers of my generation went crazy.
“Like a Moth to a Flame” continues at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, OGR’s partner institution, which is turning twenty-five this year. There, two rooms host installations by Sanya Kantarovsky and Hito Steyerl. Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo glowed like a beacon amid the all-male management of the OGR. She was the driving force behind many of the week’s events; very little happened that didn’t in some way involve her or have her approval. Her traditional Friday dinner, hosted in the covered garden of Palazzo Re Rebaudengo (whose vineyard’s Barbaresco came in bottles with labels designed by Liam Gillick), revealed the breadth of her network, from Bonacossa to Musée National d’Art Moderne director Bernard Blistène to many of the museum directors that had convened at OGR that morning for the “Museum at the Post-Digital Turn” symposium.
The following morning, I headed out of town toward Castello di Rivoli for Gilberto Zorio’s exhibition, one of the unmissable events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first Arte Povera show.
Two smaller but challenging side projects took advantage of Turin’s history: Treti Galaxie curator Matteo Mottin installed French artist Clémence de La Tour Du Pin’s first Italian solo show forty-two and a half feet underground, in the galleries and combat rooms of Fortezza del Pastiss, built by Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia and inaccessible since 1705. In Piazza Carlina, independent curator Paola Clerico used a former elettrauto (auto-electric garage) to launch a new format to match artists and collectors: a contract, compiled by an international lawyer, that binds the buyer to acquire future productions by art duo A Constructed World. Six collectors signed during the weekend, entering deals from thirty-five hundred to sixty thousand euros.
When I boarded the high-velocity train later that day, a conversation I had at the beginning of the fair came to mind. “See this people?” Peruvian collector Carlos Marsano had asked, smiling vaguely at Artissima’s crowded aisles: “We all share a disease. I call it Artzheimer. We buy, then we forget how much we’ve bought, and we buy again.”
A week later, with central Italy suddenly covered in snow, another Frecciarossa took me to Rome, for the MAXXI acquisition gala dinner, a very formal, very large, very Roman soirée at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts. The fundraiser is the brainchild of Fondazione MAXXI president and former minister of culture Giovanna Melandri: Five hundred donors were expected in the space designed by Zaha Hadid, and a site-specific installation by Michel Comte welcomed guests with images of a crumbling glacier projected on the facade.
The night began with drinks, and Hou Hanru gave guided visits to “Home Beirut Sounding the Neighbors,” the latest chapter of the exhibition project “Interactions Across the Mediterranean,” which has previously focused on Iran and Turkey. Curated by Hanru and Giulia Ferracci, it includes a musical performance by Tarek Atoui and Mazen Kerbaj and works by Etel Adnan, Tamara Al-Samerraei, Mounira Al Solh, Marwa Arsanios, and Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, among others.
Two hours later, we all sat in the museum’s large hall, lit by lamps designed by Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, for a Lebanese dinner conceived by pink-haired chef Cristina Bowerman, which was followed by dessert by Hussein Hadid, Zaha’s nephew. Guests included Vatican Museums director Barbara Jatta, Villa Medici’s director Muryel Mayette Hotz, and curators Achille Bonito Oliva and Germano Celant. But this being Rome, there was also strong attendance from the political, industrial, and movie worlds, including Academy Award winners Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo.
Melandri, after having endured two hours of red-carpet step-and-repeats, stood up to speak about the “soft power of cultural diplomacy,” and thanked guests for going black tie once a year and for the 1,400,000 euro in donations. In a typical Italian case of an expensive museum with no money for collections, a sum this big is not just soothing, it is also unheard of in this country, where public museums have historically relied on government funding and have, in most cases, only recently launched membership programs following the American example (minus the tax deductibility, of course). “We are doing our best,” said Melandri, noting that 42 percent of the museum’s budget is self-funded, so private and public resources must be developed together.
Last year, some of the money raised went to purchase Shahzia Sikander’s digital animation The Last Post and Tomas Saraceno’s video Poetic Cosmos of the Breath. Saraceno is now the central figure of MAXXI’s collaboration with Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare and Agenzia Spaziale Italiana: “Gravity,” an exhibition opening in early December devoted to recent developments in studies on gravitational waves, belongs to a new wave of museum shows aimed at bridging humanist and scientific discourses.