The imaginary pavilion of a non-state: The Piedmonts

May you live in interesting times at the foot of hills. How to lie low and ski at once.: The Piedmont Pavilion

Presented by Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art and Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation

May 8 - July 20, 2019 


Venice, Italy — Conceptualized in Turin and exhibited in a restored convent in Venice, this unofficial “pavilion” does not exist as a nation, as is the requirement to participate in the official Venice Biennial. Rather, Piedmont Pavilion is a play on the idea of a national state pavilion. As someone who had just moved to Italy, and still unfamiliar with large parts of the country, I had to research if Piedmont was a real place. 

Vincenzo Castella, Torino (Turin), 2003

It does exist in the world. Piedmont is a mountainous region in northwest Italy. It borders Switzerland and France, two countries officially represented as National Pavilions in the 58th Venice Biennial. The word Piedmont comes from the medieval Latin word Ad pedem montium meaning “at the foot of the mountains”, hence where the title of the exhibition draws its influence from. The region is well known for its various industrial factories (typewriters (Olivetti), automobiles (Fiat), aerospace engineering (Argotec); wine (Barolo) and coffee (Lavazzo); ski slopes; famous artists and poets (Pistoletto, Mollino, Pellizza da Volpedo, Carol Rama, Gozzano, Piero Simondo), etc. The entire exhibition is in a small singular room. 

Playfulness runs throughout the space as the exhibition successfully draws on science, art, theater, cinema, criticism, and the manufacturing industry to bring together a playful combination of real and fake objects. Ultimately, commenting on our current globalized culture made up of real and fake news and facts. While it is up to the viewer to discern between the fake and real, these ideas propel us forward with one other theme running throughout the exhibition, that of consumption through manufacturing. At first glance, it appears as if the room held objects from a time-capsule from various timeframes. 

What connects all the odd-objects and art work together is chiefly the region. All the artists are from the Piedmont region and the non-art objects are in a way connected to the region. 

Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venere degli stracci dorata (Venus of the Rags), 1967

When you enter the room one of the first objects to catch your attention immediately is the Art Povera Biella-native artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of the Rags (1967) installation. Displayed against a wall there is a mysterious yellow light beam next to the installation. This light source is projected by an automobile light over three photographs of Fiat cars. Pistoletto’s installation reflects on antiquity, everyday life, and consumption. The three photographs hung next to this installation are images of the Fiat 500 from 1957, a car created in the Mirafiori factory for mass consumption in Turin in the post-war era. 

The Piedmont area borders three sides of the Alps. Undoubtedly, an exhibition on the region must include the history of skiing as well. Hanging on the same wall as the Pistoletto sculpture is a photograph taken of Carlo Mollino (the eccentric architect, designer, photographer of prostitutes and daily life, skier, writer, airplane pilot and racing car driver). Under the photograph there is a quote written in cursive handwriting sprawled on the wall — a format that will reappear throughout the space. Leo Gasperl, the great Austrian Olympic skier, is mentioned in the quote under the photograph of Mollino. For a moment, one can easily mistake the subject of the photograph, is it Gasperl or Mollino? The information under the picture seems to be misguiding the viewer, so one has to double fact check with the label. 

The curator has created a playful dialogue between the artists. For example, on the wall across from the Pistelloti and Mollino work, there hangs a Carol Rama bricolage artwork and a Bepi Ghiotti photograph. Between the Rama and Ghiotti works there is an original (Olivetti typewriter produced in Turin) placed on top of an unassuming wooden stool — a display chosen over the traditional museum-style vitrines. And like Pistoletto, Rama was also concerned with using everyday materials in her work to reflect on her ideas. Her material preference was rubber and glue on canvas, or electric cables and bicycle inner tubes. The handwritten wall text guides the viewer about the contents of the photograph. There seems to be a “walking dragon” toy given to Rama by Mollino. 

ISSpresso, an espresso machine for outer-space. A joint project between Lavazza (coffee) and Argotec (aerospace engineering) both are based in Turin.

The invigilator suggested that I go through a door near the Pistolletto installation to see the behind- the-scenes of the exhibition space, literally the walls behind the room. Out of curiosity I went out that door. In the corner of the corridor there is a sound installation. The poems of the early 20th century Italian poet Gozzano are heard over a speaker, read by Manuela Grippi. Gozzano’s poems are very specific to the Piedmont region — classified as a piemontesitá form. The rest of the space exposes the walls built for the exhibition space. 

Directly across the room from a panoramic Vincenzo Castella photograph of modern day urban Turin (the capital of Piedmont) there is an even larger painting taking up the entire wall space. One of the most famous Italian paintings of the early 20th century, Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate), inspired by the Marxist workers masses, hangs on the wall with an orbiter of the Mars Rover hovering above it. The painting of the marching workers is a reproduction. The original is considered one of the top ten masterpieces of the Museo del Novecento, Milan’s collection. Il Quarto Stato is a documentation of the revolution in social structure with the development of the proletariat. (Pellizza is from Volpedo, a commune in the Piedmont region.) The painting represents the start of a new industrial world and so it brings together aesthetics and politics from history and plops itself into a present-day position, especially with the Mars satellite hoovering over it. This reproduced painting was created in 2015 by the Turkish artist Taner Ceylan. The artist was commissioned by the 2015 Turkish Biennial to re-create this painting. 

Reproduction of Pellizza da Volpedo’s Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate), 1898-1902 by Taner Ceylan (2015)

The Piedmont Pavilion embodies a non-existing country, but more specifically a region inside a country. I found this exhibition to be conceptually stronger and more enjoyable than many of the national pavilions in the official Biennial. Ultimately, it is an exploration of identity. Or rather, it is a critique of the absurdity of identity, especially national identity. The entire room feels like a theatrical setting lending itself to an experience. An experience that uses the past to comment on the present and the future. With the multilayering of various industries and fields, this exhibition asserts itself to be an important center of art and production. Showing the best of what it has to offer to an international audience. It seems to almost be at the center of the universe while still connecting with so many global angels – that of the future, space, and artistic practice. 

This exhibition is a joint collaboration between the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art (Turin) and Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation (Turin), by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. 

On the closing day of the exhibition, Pistoletto will perform Applauso al marre (Applause to the Sea). 

The Piedmont Pavilion May you live in interesting times at the foot of hills. How to lie low and ski at once, curated by Marianna Vecellio, continues at the Combo Venezia, Ex Convento dei Crociferi (Campo dei Gesuiti, Cannaregio 4878, Venice) until July 20. WM 


Whitehot writes about the best art in the world - founded by artist Noah Becker in 2005. 


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