Traveling from Florence to Turin before the sun rises, Italy unfolds from one century to another, including a quick, roadside view of Carrara, the town famous for its marble, and the source of Michelangelo’s David. After several hours of driving, I arrived at Artissima 16, the art fair that opened in 1994 at Lingotto, an ex-Fiat factory created in 1915. Lingotto was later re-designed in 1985 by Renzo Piano, who transformed the site into a high-end convention center. This year’s five-day fair included 127 Italian and international galleries from 22 countries (approximately the same as in past years). Galleries in the Main Section were arranged along color-coded aisles, which had the effect of an analogy to shopping. As in past years, there was a Main Gallery Section and a New Galleries Section with ancillary events; this year’s incartnation also included an organizing theme, “Visual Art and Theater,” that offered visitors a way to both expand and contextualize work seen in the Main Gallery Section.
Marina Abramovic, Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful
In the last decade, staged events created by visual artists have become synonymous with performance art or happenings. The Theater section, titled “Accecare L’Ascolto: Blinding the Ears,” offered performances by well-known artists like Michelangelo Pistoletto and Jim Shaw working outside their typical practices, but also gave audiences an experience that connected visual art with the legitimate stage. Artissima 16’s “Accecare L’Ascolto” is an attempt to exceed the frequently rudimentary approach of performance art in order to formulate a contemporary version of the avant-garde. “Accecare L’Ascolto” is dedicated to the well-known maverick Italian stage actor, Carmelo Bene, who used the term “Blinding the Ear” to describe a theater that would go beyond the parameters of the stage to exist in a “non-place.” Well, here was the place.
Pistoletto’s performance, “Anno Uno—Terzo Paradiso,” seen during Artissima 16 at Turin’s Teatro Regio, was originally performed in the 1960s in the streets of Corniglia, a sea town in Liguaria that’s part of the vacation area “Cinque Terre,” where Pistoletto has a house. “Anno Uno” made its theatrical debut in Rome at Teatro Quirino in 1981, but was completely re-staged for this year’s art fair. The work’s title combines the utopian Biblical concept of a “first year,” Cain and Abel, and the Catholic concept of Paradise. Then there’s the Italian Fascist use of the term “Anno Uno” as a way to eradicate history. Pistoletto’s 2009 production included a number of actors who were children of the original performers. The Artissima production was eerily reminiscent of Robert Wilson’s sparse staging by way of a Brechtian play; the work is both miminalist and absurdist.
Back at Lingotto, the world of theater had a more art-familiar vocbulary. Just beyond the entrance, Seb Patane’s “Absolute Kürper Krontoll” (2006) included two men in Bavarian costume and feathered hats slowly rotating in a tight embrace on a tiny pedestal and strategically propped in front of a life-size photo of the Alps. Their dance went on all day.
Unlike the larger art fairs, Artissima is intimate. Dealers make an effort for anyone who made the trek. At Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia, I was struck by an unusual series of small black-and-white photographic diptychs by Luciano Fabro, a key figure in modern Italian art and Arte Povera. Fabro worked in Milan until his death in 2007, and was known for large sculpture featuring unusual combinations of materials like bronze, silk and steel or dirt and marble. Fabro’s photographs from 1972 had the look of film stills, though he never made any films. They clearly reference a late 60s or early 70s anti-war demonstration but are strangely juxtaposed with single-image shots of women dressing or bathing. The photographs are slightly erotic in their combination of intimacy and violence,yet, at the same time, feel documentary in nature and more indicative of Chris Marker’s photos and films or early Antonioni films. Too bad Fabro never made movies.
Gentili Apri, Berlin, a young space that first opened in Prato, Italy, presented multi-media and digital work by media artists such as jodi.org and Joan Leandre. The work of Joan Leandre, a self-proclaimed hacker and founder of the site retroyou.com, Leandre uses existing software in both digital and physical form. At Artissima, Gentili Apri showed Leandre’s large black panel loaded with decoded phrases that had the look and feel of an FBI file and a corporate pyramid-style organizational structure chart while appearing like a contemporary version of an early Joseph Kosuth work from the late 60s such as Described and Defined, a neon display of the words subject described, object defined, that was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, all of which was very radical at the time. Leandre’s work also references Kosuth’s 1966 work on paper, Or his work, Titled (Art as Idea as Idea), a six-part certificate of authenticity with printed definitions glued to board, and six mounted photostats. In Leandre’s case, the codes and their morphed language create unexpected and highly divisive narratives and plots that might, otherwise, easily escape notice if left unread.
Marina Abramovic’s 1975 looped black and white video, “Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful,” at Lia Rumma Milano/Napoli reveals a naked-from-the-waist-up Abramovic primping her hair with two brushes, repeating the epnymous . The double brush is both a pun directed on painting, and an obsessive self-flagellation pretty typical of Abramovic’s projects. Air brushing doesn’t have a chance.
Perhaps one of the more striking works at Artissima, was a large sequence of six photographs by Barbara Probst, done in 2001 and presented here by Galleria Monica De Cardenas, Milano. Shot using multiple cameras and triggered with a single remote controlled take, NY, Exposure #9 N.Y.C., Grand Central Station, 12.18.01, 1:21 P.M, at first appears to be six separate images featuring a shot of a woman arriving at the train station and a second close-up of the same woman, as well as a crowd hurrying to catch a train, as well as other shots of passengers trying to catch their train. At first the work gives a narrative read, incorporating the desolation of Grand Central, despite its flurry of passengers. In Probst’s work, viewers immediately get a sense of the serial quality of the work, but it is only upon a second, if not a third or fourth look, that the viewer begins to sense how the visual terms of Probst’s work create a unique intersection between the moving image and the still image. Artissima’s theme: Visual Art and Theater seemed the perfect context for this series.
Related: It was hard to miss a rather fervent, though small group of firemen who just couldn’t stop analyzing the art they were seeing and clearly enjoying it.