Re-contextualizing the Art Fair: Part Two

Vittoria Martini

A view of the event La fine di Pistoletto, performed at the Piper Club, Turin, March 6, 1967.

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 Two: Situazione 67

In the pages of the catalogue for the Museo Sperimentale d’Arte Contemporanea, Celant wrote a text entitled “Situazione 67,” in which he defines the goal of “experimental research.” The term “designates a process aimed at deactivating the traditional interpretative scheme [and] acting against an institutionalized situation…experimental research operates in the ‘situation’…trying to open up a new vision of the world, and works at discovering new expressive ways of working, pointing to new possibilities of the visual ‘discourse.’”11. Germano Celant, “Situazione 67,” in Museo sperimentale d’arte contemporanea, ed. Eugenio Battisti, Germano Celant (Torino: Galleria civica d’arte moderna, 1967), 16.

Celant wrote these words for an exhibition in Turin, which took place in a crucial year: 1967. The “avant-garde” continued to be the framework that bounded the dialogical interactions that emerged in the city during this decade—between the public and private sectors, local and international forces, and among different generations and disciplines.22. Francesca Pola, “Intersezioni e sconfinamenti. Luoghi di una identità plurale,” in Torino Sperimentale 1959-1969. Una storia della cronaca: il sistema delle arti come avanguardia, ed. Luca M. Barbero (Torino: Allemandi 2010), 427. In Turin, there was a strong beat atmosphere, with the influence of electronic music entering the city through Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono. That year, the publisher Einaudi issued the first Italian translation of Herbert Marcuse’s One-dimensional man (1964). At Teatro Stabile, as part of the Proposte series, poetic experiences blended with musical and artistic ones, involving young artists such as Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis and Giulio Paolini. The association Unione Culturale brought experimental theater and underground cinema to Turin, presenting works by artists, musicians, and filmmakers including Carmelo Bene, Eugenio Barba, Philip Glass, Jerzy Grotowsky, Tadeusz Kantor, Laurie Anderson, and John Cage. In 1967, Jonas Mekas organized the film review New American Cinema Group at GAM.

For the Italia ’61 expo, The Living Theatre came to Turin during their exile from the United States. They performed in the city in both bourgeois theaters and in underground venues, presenting two national premiere productions in the city. Introducing its unprecedented way of interpreting the relationship between art and life, art and politics, works of art and their publics, authorship and community, The Living Theatre completely revolutionized the Turin arts scene. One of the regular venues for The Living Theatre shows was the Piper Club, a nightclub designed in 1966 by Pietro Derossi and Giorgio Ceretti. Conceived of as a space for sensory immersion and creative expression, the Piper’s interior became a spatial manifesto for radical architecture. During the two years of its existence, the Piper hosted concerts, happenings, and exhibitions. It was here that Pistoletto performed his first public action, and held his first Zoo show—which was also influenced by The Living Theatre’s idea of a “theater outside theaters.” In May, 1967, Germano Celant published his article “Arte Povera. Appunti per una guerriglia” in Flash Art. In the article, Celant described the artistic research of Turin’s new generation as being closely related to experimental theater, in particular to the work of Jerzy Grotowsky. 

The Living Theater performing Paradise Now at Teatro Alfieri in Turin, October 21, 1969.

The “radical and iconoclast” perspective coming from underground theater and cinema inspired Turin artists to incorporate all kinds of matter and spaces into their creative language. In December, 1967, the exhibition 
Con temp l’azione opened in three Turin galleries: Stein, Il Punto, and Sperone. Christian Stein had opened his gallery in 1966 to work, quite simply, with “the artists who surrounded him.”33. Ida Gianelli, “Intervista a Corrado Levi,” in Un’avventura internazionale. Torino e le arti 1950-1970, ed. Germano Celant, Paolo Fossati, Ida Gianelli (Milano: Edizioni Charta, 1993), 158. In the year 2000, the collection that Stein had developed over the years was purchased in part by the CRT Foundation for GAM and the Castello di Rivoli, where it now serves as a central part of each institution’s collection.  Il Punto was a young gallery, “a training ground that operated at a very fast pace,” working exclusively with emerging artists.44. Giorgina Bertolino, Francesca Pola, “Intervista a Liliana Dematteis, galleria Martano,” in Torino Sperimentale 1959-1969. Una storia della cronaca: il sistema delle arti come avanguardia, ed. Luca M. Barbero (Torino: Allemandi 2010), 163. Gian Enzo Sperone was the director of Il Punto for two years before opening his own gallery, Sperone. This trio of galleries offered a busy program of events, presenting a new show every month—creating new projects at a pace that critics could not possibly keep up with. Turin, after all, is a city of artists, not of critics.

Curated by Daniela Palazzoli, Con temp l’azione was a pivotal event that remapped the geography of art in Turin as artists began to get to know one another and to exchange ideas. In the text Precronistoria, Germano Celant wrote: “the exhibition is informed by the awareness of a mechanism of interaction between art and social structures, between the art product and the means used to spread it.”55. Germano Celant, Precronistoria 1966-69, (Macerata: Quodlibet), 44. The invited artists—Gianni Piacentino, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Aldo Mondino, Ugo Nespolo, Giovanni Anselmo, Gilberto Zorio, Getulio Alviani, Luciano Fabro, Claudio Simonetti and Alighiero Boetti—invaded the gallery spaces and “physically linked them to each other… their works therefore came to life in the streets that connected the galleries, or directed viewers to a single work through their individual positions.”66. Ibid. The previous year, in 1966, Sperone’s gallery had hosted an exhibition entitled Arte Abitabile, in which Pistoletto, Piero Gilardi and Piacentino had all worked on creating artworks that merged with the space itself, thus becoming both part of the architecture and of the real world.

Sperone had trained at Mario Tazzoli’s gallery, Galatea, as a young man. Tazzoli had brought Francis Bacon and Giacometti to Turin and, in 1960, had held the first solo show of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work. Pistoletto and Sperone—contemporaries linked through the gallery—became friends. In 1963, Pistoletto took Sperone to Paris and introduced him to Ileana Sonnabend, who was preparing a solo show of Pistoletto’s works in her gallery. Sperone came home with a Lichtenstein exhibition and a Warhol show in his hands, and the following year he opened his gallery. He was twenty-five at the time. Extraordinarily forward-thinking, even compared to the international scene, Speroni hosted the very first solo shows dedicated to the protagonists of Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, and Arte Povera. The gallery’s activities both marked and exemplified the development of art trends in the second half of the 1960s.77. 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), 19. Sperone surrounded himself with artists who served as guides and advisors, helping the gallery to stay ahead of the curve. Pistoletto, who had already earned international recognition, was a main advisor, as was Gilardi, who used to travel between the United States, Italy, and Britain, writing reports for Flash Art and bringing back information about what he had seen to Turin. Sperone’s approach was perhaps non-traditional, and certainly non-hierarchical. In the words of Gilardi, Sperone was “a young man just like us,” sharing the same ideas about research and living in the same milieu.88. Piero Gilardi, interview with the author. Turin, September, 2017. Sperone created a close, efficient network of galleries that shared his interests and market at both a local and international level. His openness towards cooperation and collaboration helped to forge this international network, and came to both reflect and define the openness of the Turin scene during this era.

It is in this Turin—and, importantly, with this mindset—that the Deposito d’Arte Presente was born.

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

This text was translated from Italian by Elisabetta Zoni.