Europe’s season of art fairs continued last weekend, after Frieze London and FIAC, with the 22nd edition of Artissima in Turin. This Piedmontese fair, like her influential sisters in France and the U.K., included a wealth of contemporary art and a large program of talks, performances, and special offsite projects. One crucial difference, however, separates Artissima from the other fall fairs: the special relationship between the fair and its host city. With its 16-century façades, richly decorated interiors, and polished porticos, Turin is an unusual backdrop, to say the least, for a cutting-edge contemporary art fair. The city’s aristocratic personality also comes across in its strong history of institutional support for the arts, a tradition of noblesse oblige that’s also apparent in the lineage of Artissima.
As the first capital of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 and the home of the royal family of Savoy, Turin was historically the political and financial heart of the region and has been a center for art and culture ever since. Nowadays it’s a lively stage for cultural initiatives such as the Turin International Book Fair, Turin Slow Food, the MITO SettembreMusica festival, and the Torino Film Festival. Artissima is supported by local public partners such as Regione Piemonte, Provincia di Torino and Città di Torino, and is managed by the Fondazione Torino Musei.
If Milan is known for its glittering cluster of fashionable, commercial galleries, Turin’s art scene reflects its monarchic imprint with a strong institutional presence. Contemporary art radiates through a rather high number (considering the city’s small size) of respected public organizations. It’s worth mentioning, in particular, the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (chaired by eminent Italian collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and counting Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani and the omnipresent curator Francesco Bonami as board members) as well as the Fondazione CRT, the Fondazione Merz (named after artist Mario Merz and highlighting Turin’s role as the capital of the Arte Povera movement), and the National Gallery of Art which boasts the former dOCUMENTA (13) chief curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev as its new director. The list goes on, including the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea and the open-air exhibition site Parco Arte Vivente (PAV).
Turin’s cultural institutions certainly make it a hospitable environment for Artissima, but with the arrival of the fair the local pride in the arts is accompanied by an obvious strategy of courting well-off foreign art buyers. The motto “go international or go home” has guided the fair in its past few editions, and this year it was especially apparent in the “Present Future” section dedicated to new trends and emerging international artists.
One standout there was Nyah Isabel Cornish, who graduated from the Fine Arts School in Melbourne in 2014 and creates colorful, chaotic abstract landscapes inspired by new media. She is represented by the Italian art dealer Rolando Anselmi, who runs a gallery in Berlin and has a new one opening in Rome in February 2016, and who sold one of her paintings at Artissima for around €5,000.
The Paris-based Galerie Antoine Levi participated with two booths—one in the main section showing Francesco Gennari, Olve Sande, and Sean Townley, and the other one in the “Present Future” area presenting the Russian artist Alina Chaiderov. The winner of the 15th edition of the Present Future illy Award, Chaiderov makes autobiographical sculptures that reflect on the themes of memory and time—as in her piece Before 1989 We Kept Bananas in the Closet (2014), which was acquired by Museo Ettore Fico within hours of the fair’s opening.
Artworks by emerging artists were good overall and relatively inexpensive, ranging in price from €900 for a small-scale canvas by the millennial Danish artist Alger Dybvad Larsen (at Galerie Rolando Anselmi) to the Copenhagen-based artist Mikkel Carl’s paintings made of moving blankets that were exhibited at Last Resort and priced at a couple of thousand euros. A higher price tag of around €15,000 was attached to an installation by the Polish artist and 2015 Deutsche Bank award winner Iza Tarasewicz. Titled The Means, The Milieu (2014-15), it explored the meaning of Lucretius’s concept of clinamen (the unpredictable "swerve" of atoms that implies a kind of universal free will) and was exhibited at the booth of the Warsaw gallery BWA Warszawa.
Another highlight was the booth of Monopol gallery in the “Back to Future” section, which had a selection of works from the 1970s and the 1980s by the Polish sculptor and member of the Grupa Krakowska II Maria Pinińska-Bereś, who is considered one of the key precursors of feminist art in Poland. Her abstract pieces in her characteristic pink color were priced at €17,000 to €22,000. Gray, meanwhile, dominated the booth of the Rotterdam-based space Cinnnamon in the “New Entries” section. The two directors proudly emphasized not just the chromatic consistency of the booth but the curatorial concept of temporality and the aligned prices, from €3,500 for a cast-aluminium painting by Danish artist Theis Wendt to around €5,000 for illusionistic canvases by Norwegian Lars Morell.
Artissima's expansionist endgame was also apparent in the substantial investment in VIP programs, lounges, and travel, not to mention the selection of galleries from neighboring countries and exotic regions like Brazil, Japan, and Taiwan. French, Belgian, and Swiss collectors, strangers to the fiscal burdens of Italy’s local government, snapped up works by both emerging and established artists from local and international exhibitors.
The Roman space Magazzino d’Arte Moderna, for instance, secured a big €24,000 sale of Alessandro Piangiamore’s project Un petalo viola su un pavimento di cemento (2015). The work, made of concrete and flowers, was exhibited in July this year at the Sacrario of Montecassino, a site in central Italy that was ravaged by bombs during the Second World War.
Targeting collectors with even more loaded bank accounts, the established Galerie Bernard Ceysson (with branches in France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg) hosted a group exhibition by artists belonging to the Supports/Surfaces movement of 1975-1985, which has been highly influential in the development of contemporary French art. Sculptures by Bernard Pagès were priced at around €70,000. And at the booth of Dubai-based gallery The Third Line, paintings by the Los Angeles-based artist Hayv Kahraman investigated the theme of violence from her perspective an Iraqi immigrant living in the West. Works such as Translator, the pun-based Her Name Is Gun and Test Your Iraqiness, which mix Arab calligraphy and female figures drawn from daily life in Baghdad, were priced at around €60,000 each. They were among many reminders that although Artissima thrives on Turin's local traditions, it's increasingly driven by a bid for international recognition.