Re-contextualizing the Art Fair: Part One

Vittoria Martini

View of the city of Turin, 2009, via Wikimedia Commons.

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 Italiano Presente, a curated section conceived for Artissima 2017. Organized by Martini and Ilaria Bonacossa, Artissima’s Director, Deposito d’Arte Italiano 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 Italiano 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.

Part One: Turin as Context

“the future…is to be found in a sensivity to how the coincidence of works of art and other conditions (temporal, geographic, historic, discursive and institutional) locate a project and how that ‘location’ can be used to articulate a project that is respectful of its artworks and speaks to its viewers.”

– Elena Filipovic, The Global White Cube

You do not end up in Turin by chance: you plan to come here. Turin possesses a combination of factors that are hardly repeatable elsewhere, making it a required destination for anyone who works in contemporary art. First of all, it is one of Italy’s major cities, and one of the richest in historical, scientific, and artistic museums of national relevance. Another particularlity lies in its geographical position: Turin is located at the foot of the Alps, just a few kilometers from France and, most importantly, in the region that is the cradle of quality wine and food culture—this alone makes it a tourist destination.

In 1961, Turin was a factory-city that had reached one million inhabitants, having experienced a migration of historical proportions. Later, during the difficult transition to post-Fordism, Turin embraced the European policies guiding the promotion and development of cities by investing in its historical mission as a laboratory of cultural production, one that excelled, in particular, in the production of contemporary art.

This history can be traced back to 1860, to the founding of the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna (GAM), the first Italian museum devoted to promoting a public collection of modern art. As Germano Celant writes, after 1945 Turin was reborn as “if not an international city, then definitely a European one.”11. Germano Celant, “Una storia,” in Un’avventura internazionale. Torino e le arti 1950-1970, ed. Germano Celant, Paolo Fossati, Ida Gianelli (Milano: Edizioni Charta, 1993), 12.  In 1959, after air raids during World War II destroyed its original site, a new building was devised for the GAM. Designed in the organic architectural style that embodied the avant-garde for museography at the time, GAM immediately became “a place where international routes met,” a venue for major exhibitions organized in collaboration with international museums, and soon turned into a museum that was able to “promptly…read and interpret the present time.”22. Giorgina Bertolino, “Il museo architettato. La Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Torino nel dialogo fra Carlo Bassi Goffredo Boschetti e Vittorio Viale,” in Dalle bombe al museo 1942-1959.La rinascita dell’arte moderna. L’esempio della GAM di Torino, ed. Riccardo Passoni, Giorgina Bertolino (Milano: Silvana Editoriale, 2016), 79. The museum’s program began to connect to those of the many galleries in the city, and there is no doubt that Turin galleries played a historically significant role in the second half of the twentieth century. Turin emerged as the place in which to “test or spread a different development,” as private galleries between 1957 and 1958 introduced avant-garde artists, many of whom the GAM went on to support, producing exhibitions that made history (such as Francis Bacon, 1962).33. Celant, 12. The presence of gallery owners, private collectors, and the many artists who lived in the city gave rise to a strong arts ecosystem, one that was reinforced by the local institutions, which aimed to encourage and extend the desire for innovation. This Turin system became central in the early 1960s: as a “propulsive center for labor, industry, capital, and commerce, Turin fueled an open, experimental cultural process” that saw private initiative play a central role, and allowed “the art of the present [to become] one of the factors of economic growth, and one of many forms of investment.”44. Francesca Pola, “Dialoghi tra spazio e tempo. Il sistema dell’avanguardia,” in Torino Sperimentale 1959-1969. Una storia della cronaca: il sistema delle arti come avanguardia, ed. Luca M. Barbero (Torino: Allemandi 2010), 132. In 1961, the city  hosted the major international event, Italia ‘61, an expo that celebrated one hundred years of Italian unity, and forced the city to open itself to worldwide circulation and exchange.

The city’s public mission as a collector of contemporary art was confirmed in 1966, when the GAM accepted a donation from the Museo Sperimentale d’Arte Contemporanea, which had been founded by Eugenio Battisti as part of Genoa University. The Museo Sperimentale was a collection of works by living artists, which aimed to “function as a mode of knowledge..a sort of living catalogue,” to expand the ability of the larger public to experience contemporary art.55. Eugenio Battisti, “Un’utopia realizzabile,” in Museo sperimentale d’arte contemporanea, ed. Eugenio Battisti, Germano Celant (Torino: Galleria civica d’arte moderna, 1967), 9. Battisti suggested Germano Celant for the role of curator of the Museo, and in 1967 Celant curated its first exhibition in the galleries of GAM. The show marked the beginning of Celant’s intense relationship with the city, which culminated in 1970 with Conceptual Art Arte Povera Land Art. A historic exhibition, the show is remembered as the “first [that] tried to present, in the framework of a museum, a history in progress that has mainly to do with the propulsive force of a global art scene, which is also the result of what happens in Turin.”66. Celant, 22.

In 1984, at the initiative of the Piedmont Region, the Castello di Rivoli, the first contemporary art museum in Italy, opened to the public. The idea was to create an internationally-oriented museum. Initially under the direction of Rudi Fuchs, the opening of the Castello di Rivoli was a seminal event that contributed to the spread and promotion of contemporary art in Italy, and turned out to be a key factor in confirming Turin’s significance in the international scene. In 1988, Castello di Rivoli saw a change in its financial structure, becoming the first example of a mixed public/private management of an Italian museum.

It is in this culturally rich context—one characterized by political vision in the public sphere, private support, and a lively intellectual and artistic community—that Artissima was born in 1994. The art fair was immediately “perceived by those working in the sector as a defining presence in the system”.77. Giorgina Bertolino, “Le gallerie e gli artisti,” in Arte contemporanea a Torino. Da sistema locale a eccellenza internazionale, (Torino: Torino Internazionale 2004), 61. The reasons for its success have to do with its clear focus on contemporary art, a strong drive towards internationalization, and the activation, as part of the fair, of Fondo Artissima, launched in 1997 in collaboration with the Piedmont Region and the CRT Foundation. This fund provides for purchases for works exhibited at Artissima. The works purchased under this arrangement have been split between the collections of GAM and the Castello di Rivoli, though, as of this year, a new institution also joins the program: the OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni). This funding structure has made it possible for some of the artists presented by galleries to directly enter public collections, earning the artists significant recognition.

In 2003, the fair became a subsidiary company wholly owned by Fondazione Torino Musei, which was established in 2001 to curate and manage the historical and artistic heritage of the city of Turin. Artissima is therefore a natural part of the city’s identity and historical tradition. supported by the banking foundations that started emerging around the early 2000s with the aim of enhancing and highlighting the heritage of the territory, Artissima is both a public fair, and part of the city’s heritage. The fair’s popularity functions as a propulsive factor for all public and private institutions in the territory. Each year in November, these institutions converge in a synergetic effort to create a lively program of exhibitions, events, and projects that allows these institutions a unique opportunity to engage with an international public of arts patrons and professionals. Artissima 2017 is intentionally reflective on this rich history and has moved to include programs that expose this legacy. Unlike the global white cube, Artissima could not exist in any other place—only in Turin.

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

This text was translated from Italian by Elisabetta Zoni.