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Shana Beth Mason

Manuele Cerutti, La Vertigine (2011-12). Oil on canvas. 30 x 40 cm. Courtesy of the artist and 401 Contemporary, Berlin. Photo credit: Christina Leoncini

For all of its ostentatious, consumerist glaze and its impossibly vague standards of intellectual engagement (Are you smart enough to own the work? Keen enough to negotiate its price? Savvy enough to know of its critical value?), the art fair has its place in the world. More than serving as a practical trade show where artists, curators, critics and the public can freely interact with contemporary art, each art fair possesses a distinctive personality that acts as a conduit for a captive audience to experience related exhibitions and happenings. ARTISSIMA is a brilliant example of this formula at work.

The actual content presented via the gallery booths and the related curatorial scenarios was of an elite, cerebral grade. While there were elements of commercial ambition towards private buyers (interior décor-friendly works from Julian Opie, Martin Creed, Gilbert & George and Anish Kapoor were available), the fair’s primary focus appeared to rest on the critical dialogue between artists, artists and curators, and curators and viewers. The buying process rarely commenced without a preliminary interview between the gallery (and artist, if he or she was present) and a prospective client. As an American writer (not a buyer) covering the fair, one gallerist quizzed me to determine if I was familiar with the painting compendium Vitamin P2 before permitting me to interview their young Italian painter at their booth. All the while, even the most recognizable international galleries maintained a comfortable approachability for all of its viewers; this fair was meant to cater to anyone who came through the glass doors of the Oval. In other words, if you showed up, you were important enough to be spoken to.


Domenico Mangano, Werken is Leven | Work is Life, Veenhuizen series (2012). Inkjet print on baryte paper. 50 x 75 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Magazzino, Rome

Some examples of complex, richly-conceived projects in the Main Galleries Section included photographic documentation of 19th century Dutch Veerhuizen (a prisoner reform colony) by Magazzino’s Domenico Mangano, a large two-panel photograph from Hrair Sarkissian (Kalfayan Galleries) depicting an abandoned housing complex in Damascus, sets of carefully worked and re-worked paintings from the memory of Manuele Cerutti (401 Contemporary, Berlin) and curious sculptural explorations of the boomerang by Lea Porsager (Henningsen, Copenhagen). The Present Future Section was organized by six international curators (one being MOCA North Miami’s own Alex Gartenfield), highlighting 24 young practitioners and culminated with the winners of the illy Present Future Prize shown on the grounds of the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea. As part of the One Torino citywide arts initiative, artists Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Vanessa Safavi and Santo Tolone occupied the top level of the museum with a video work humorously and poignantly recalling the urban development of Guatemala City (Ramírez-Figueroa), a sand-filled room sparsely populated with rumpled clothes and sneakers (Safavi), Matisse-esque drawings of nudes from the back (Tolone) among others.

The past was constantly within sight and earshot with ARTISSIMA; for the tenth year, Back To The Future exhibited works created solely between the late 1960’s and the last years of the 1990’s. Described as a section devoted to ‘artists’ artists’, works from Mary Bauermeister, McArthur Binion, Ian Breakwell and others were shown as exemplars of breakthroughs in their respective mediums, educational backgrounds and/or associative aesthetic movements.

Combining the historic, cultural riches of the area in and around Torino with the most recent production methodologies from brilliant new talents, ARTISSIMA was an experience for the international fair-hopper who is a civilized, traditional flâneur; a looker with the means and the motivation to mire themselves in the fine madness of contemporary art works and its ennui.

ARTISSIMA was held at the Oval, Lingotto Fiere in Torino from November 8th-10th, 2013. It is directed by Sarah Cosulich Canarutto and celebrated its 20th year with this edition. This year marked the first year of the One Torino cultural campaign, bringing contemporary art throughout the city in both old and new spaces. The 2014 edition is scheduled for November 7th-9th.