Re-contextualizing the Art Fair: Part Four

Installation view of Desposito d'Arte Italiana Presente at Artissima 2017, Turin. Photo: Perottino – Alfero – Bottallo - Formica.

The Exhibitionist is partnering with the Artissima art fair for the 2017 iteration of Artissima Live, which invites international publications to be in residence during the course of the fair, to publish about the art, programs, and events taking place over the course of four days in the city of Turin, Italy. Alongside the editors of ATP Diary (Milan), Artdependence Magazine (Antwerp), Aujourd’hui Magazine (Lisbon), Fruit of the Forest (Milan and Miami), and Kabul Magazine (Milan), The Exhibitionist will publishing columns, essays, and interviews highlighting the work of curators, artists, and others involved in Artissima 2017. As a journal focused on curatorial practice and the history of exhibitions, The Exhibitionist will aim to examine various forms of curatorial labor visible at the fair, consider the historical contexts that the fair itself aims to reconsider, and think about the art fair as a particular form of exhibition.

Here, curator and art historian Vittoria Martini elaborates on the
Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente, a curated section conceived for Artissima 2017. Organized by Martini and Ilaria Bonacossa, Artissima’s Director, Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente reconsiders the history of Italian art since 1994, the year in which Artissima was founded. Through works by 124 artists made in the past twenty-three years, Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente offers an object-based archive of contemporary Italian art. Through a series of four texts published over the course of the fair’s four days, Martini will explore the art historical context of Turin, the legacy and influence of Arte Povera on the Italian scene, and Artissima’s role as a catalyst within contemporary Italian art since the 1990s.

1967-2017. The Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente 

The Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente is an exhibition project staged within the Artissima art fair this year. Explicitly rooted in the city of Turin, its identity and its history, the structure of the project centers on Italian art of the last twenty years. 2017 year commemorates the fifty year anniversary of the birth of Arte Povera, and the Deposito d’Arte Presente emerged as one form through which to remember and celebrate this history. The Deposito also provided an ideal archetype that encapsulates the defining qualities of Turin: daring experimentalism, an appetite for research and innovation, and international ambitions.

The Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente is not an exact recreation of the Deposito pioneered by the Arte Povera crowd. Instead, we’ve taken the Deposito as an inspiration, interpreting the great freedom that they felt in displaying works of art for our contemporary moment. The model of the Deposito was used as a conceptual framework for a project that mirrors the working conditions of the original—an innovative format that gathers all the players in the art system within a single space, creating synergies among artists, gallery owners and collectors. (Which is also, incidentally, exactly what happens in an art fair.)

Indeed, while rootedness in this particular geography is evident in the historical reference to the Deposito’s experimental exhibition format, it was also necessary to anchor our present project in its immediate context—namely, Artissima. An art fair provides for a different experience of time, and projects imagined within this context have to adapt to a different pace. We therefore chose to create a context-specific exhibition project, designed to be experienced at the same speed as the fair—itself an eccentric place that tries to provide visitors (be they professionals, enthusiasts, or novices)with a space for instantaneous consumption.

Installation view of Desposito d'Arte Italiana Presente at Artissima 2017, Turin. Photo: Perottino – Alfero – Bottallo - Formica.

The Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente starts with the year 1994, the year Artissima was born. For the past twenty-four years, Artissima has continuously promoted Italian and international galleries, supported the emergence of many Italian artists, and enabled the rediscovery of major figures previously neglected by the art market. It was therefore natural for us to start our project with the history of Artissima itself. We came to see the fair as a great archive, a capsule, if you will, of the past two decades of contemporary Italian art. Reviewing the history of the fair in our research, we focused specifically on understanding the evolving art ecology and the art market of Italy. We analyzed the fair’s catalogues, year after year, starting from the first edition. What emerged is a trail, formed through seasons and cycles, the appearance and disappearance of certain artists and galleries, all of which have left a mark of some kind on this history. In short, the archive of Artissima offers a glimpse into the history of the Italian art world of the past two decades.

The early 1990s marked a generational turning point in Italy. Those years saw numerous exhibitions aiming to take stock of what was left of Italian art after Transavanguardia—a subject that was also taken up by a special issue of Flash Art in 1990. In 1997, Francesco Bonami wrote that the new generation of Italian artists “may be…the most innovative in its language among those that have developed in the past three decades in Italy…the only one that was able to climb on top of the waste dump of ideas that has piled up from the 1970s until today…[a generation that] had…two perfect parents, which is the worst misfortune that can fall upon an individual, or group of individuals…Arte Povera and Transavaguardia.” These predecessors were theauthors and protagonists of a “new creative process, totally independent…which makes the Italian identity one of the richest on earth. A generation that does not want the death of anybody.”11. Francesco Bonami, “Perfect Parents (Mom, who was Aldo Moro?)”, in Fatto in Italia, ed. Paolo Colombo, (Milano: Electa, 1997), 39.

For our current project, we started from the year1994 because it also marks a turning point in Italian history. Italy in the 1990s was a different nation than the one that had witnessed the birth of Transavanguardia. The past that we had to reckon with then was not the legacy of 1968, or Italy’s “years of lead.” The political urgency of these earlier eras was replaced by something else. Domestic terrorism in Italy was no longer politically motivated, but fueled by the mafia. Thebombings and shootings during this period served as a prelude to the two decades that followed, an era dominated by Silvio Berlusconi, who came into political prominence in 1994. We begin with this year in order to search for the roots of Italian artists working today.

The world in which thirty-year-old artists live today is completely different from the one that incubated the artists of Arte Povera and the Transavaguardia. The world today is digital, communication is transformed, and social relationships revolutionized. However, what these overlapping generations share is Italian identity—the deep roots of the nation’s history that each carries with them, even in our increasingly globalized world. As Carolyn Christov Bakargiev wrote in that special issue of Flash Art in 1990, “While the condition of [living in] the cultural periphery might seem like a handicap at first sight, it is this very condition that allows for the freedom of action that characterizes Italian artists.”22. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, “”Chi li ha visti: contrappunti nell’arte italiana. Criteri pragmatici per uscire dall’impasse postmoderna,” in Flash Art, n.158, 1990. Much has changed since 1994.The world has become smaller, Italian artists travel and live outside of their home country, the art world has grown rapidly, and the number of Italian galleries has tripled.

Installation view of Desposito d'Arte Italiana Presente at Artissima 2017, Turin. Photo: Perottino – Alfero – Bottallo - Formica.

Based on a thorough review of a wide selection of works created by over a hundred Italian artists between 1994 and 2017, the Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente emerged without a general theme. The Deposito does not offer a singlular critical perspective nor does it aim at creating a theoretical system. Rather, it attempts to establish links and formal groups as a starting point for identifying common threads in contemporary art research of the past two decades.

Our choice to present Italian art in the form of a depot or warehouse (and amid the confusion that characterizes it), has a specific critical significance. Our idea is that, as Italians, we possess a great fortune, a heritage of contemporary ideas and works, which are all too often left unexamined. This exhibition within Artissima, then, is meant as an provocation and an invitation—to exhibit, study, and historicize the events, objects, and actors of our past two decades. The Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente offers a snapshot, partial, condensed, and necessarily incomplete. It signals a new path for Artissima, which hopes to emerge in the coming years as a permanent space for research as well as for the promotion of the Italian art scene.

Vittoria Martini is a curator, art historian, and writer based in Turin, Italy.

This text was translated from Italian by Elisabetta Zoni.