by Shana Beth Mason
By the time you’ve swept past the railings lining the Oval Auditorium in downtown Torino, it’s apparent that you’re in over your head at ARTISSIMA. The dual-cheek kisses, the trills of Italian speech, the baby pink totes with the fair logo: it all looks a bit familiar, doesn’t it? It’s sleek, branded, served by sponsors such as FIAT and UniCredit; offsite exhibitions are held at historical locales including the Castello di Rivoli and Palazzo Cavour. What sets this fair apart, however, is that it occupies a strange little position between the grandiosity of Art Basel and the brilliant snobbery of the likes of NADA, Liste and the Independent.
There’s a reverb of modern art’s not-too-distant past in the Back To The Future section, featuring artists whose work was created exclusively between the early 1960’s and 1989. While the fair is generally characterized as one promoting established artists/curators/galleries, the Present Future Section plucks the freshest lot of artists, while the New Entries section focuses on galleries founded after 2008. Standout programs included Brand New Gallery (Milan), Henningsen (Copenhagen), Galleria Upp (Venice) and Johannes Vogt (New York). Proyectos Ultravioleta, founded in 2009 and based in Guatemala City, is a berth of young talent: artists Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Vanessa Safavi and Santo Tolone were honored with solo projects shown with the One Torino campaign at the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporaneo.)
Of the Main Galleries section, many of the international fair circuits’ usual suspects bared their claws such as David Kordansky, Mendes Wood, Limoncello (London) and Isabella Bortolozzi. But there were surprise treats from Tel Aviv-based Braverman Gallery (whose artist Gilat Ratman represented Israel at this year’s Venice Biennale), Rome-based Galleria Valentina Bonomo (showing two shimmering Julian Opie works) and more from Galleria Continua (San Gimignano), Sprovieri (London) and Eleni Koroneou (Athens). The fair’s content, itself, is so dizzyingly cerebral that it would easily scare away some of the most seasoned American collectors. Indeed, the majority of the viewership is European (mostly middle-aged Italians, a few French speakers here and there, several Brits and a small American contingency).
Regardless of the intellectual intensity of the work and the overall curatorial aims of the participating galleries, it is still palatable to a commercial audience while satisfying the needs of the most discerning critics and theorists (and no, no one can buy their way into prominence here. Their buying (or hard) power must be earned through pure word-of-mouth, while their reputations (or soft) power are bolstered by critical publication and praise. As a city, Torino underwent massive civic improvements to prepare for its’ hosting of the 2006 Winter Olympics. While the city’s Metro and bus system is fairly efficient, the fair still has a way to go before matching the clockwork transport services of Frieze or Art Basel. If anything, it is the spaces beyond the Oval that command true wonderment as they effortlessly blend old with new. Now in its twentieth year, ARTISSIMA is growing up to be a fine young fair.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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