June 06, 2022
I WATCHED as a battered gray car sailed off the Umberto I Bridge and into the hot spring air before landing with a terrific crash in the Po river below. Last Saturday in Turin, a large American and Italian crew had closed off part of the city to film Fast X, the tenth and finale installment in the Fast and Furious series, featuring a suite of muscular A-listers including Vin Diesel, Ludacris, Charlize Theron, Cardi B, Brie Larson, and Jason Momoa, among others. These are, for readers unfamiliar, lucrative and patently idiotic movies which celebrate fuel, family, and franchise with technically virtuosic action sequences, hot supercars, and fun explosions. To my surprise, I found the stunt totally delightful, despite the fact that my viewership of the existing nine movies amounts to a mere one and a half, and like everyone who had gathered at the river to watch the shoot, I cheered in happiness as the car smashed into the Po. Perhaps it was to do with how rudimentary and real the stunt was: The day before, I had walked past the ramp that was being constructed for the shot, which was made from just few pieces of plywood. Around an hour later as I left the scene, a crane lifted the wrecked stunt vehicle and strung it up above the city like an animal carcass, its bumper dangling poignantly. Plainly symbolic for this historic automotive hub, the home of FIAT. And yet, as the Turinese are complaining, Turin will be doubling for Rome in the finished movie. I guess they will fix it in post.
The post-post-industrial theatrics reached new heights this week, when the Pinacoteca Agnelli, an institution located atop the Lingotto building—a quondam FIAT factory and 1920s modern manufacturing case study—reopened under the leadership of Sarah Cosulich. The Pinacoteca was originally built around a gift of twenty-five works by the late FIAT boss Giovanni Agnelli—the smooth billionaire colloquially known as l’Avvocato (the lawyer)—and his wife, Marella Caracciolo, featuring a suite of muscular A-listers including Picasso, Canaletto, Matisse, Manet, and Modigliani, among others. Housed in box museum with crystalline wings called lo scrigno (the jewel box), which floats above the building’s famous rooftop car test track La Pista, it is the centerpiece of a 2002 refurbishment by Renzo Piano, car manufacturing having ceased at the site in 1982. In place of the production line are the usual offices, shopping mall, and a cinema that by now all feel slightly tired.
Today’s Pinacoteca is something new—a feminist organization run entirely by women and animated by a desire to treat the site as a palimpsest of twentieth-century themes, among them: men of industry, labor and the production line, patriarchy, automotive and broader technological developments, and the modernist movements represented in the Agnelli collection. The first of the institution’s “Beyond the Collection” initiatives is a collaboration with Fondation Beyeler that uses a Picasso portrait, Homme appuyé sur une table, 1915–16, to recenter Dora Maar as an artist and important interlocutor of Picasso’s, accompanied in the museum space by an extensive timeline that intertwined both artists’ works and biographies, a selection of Maar’s and Picasso’s photographs, and a handful of magnificent Picasso paintings loaned from the Beyeler. A new contemporary exhibitions space has also opened, inaugurated by a Sylvie Fleury survey—the artist’s spiky and glamorously critical approach to drives and fetishes being wholly appropriate for this new endeavor—as well as La Pista 500, a new sculpture park on the rooftop test track, whose premiere features Fleury and Valie Export, Mark Leckey, Cally Spooner, Shilpa Gupta, and Louise Lawler.
The opening was yet another hot day, and seeing that museum attendants were walking around the bright rooftop with umbrellas to protect them from the blazing afternoon sunshine, I first visited Fleury’s exhibition, “Turn Me On,” on the lower floor, which opened with a collection of television sets in the entryway playing 1980s and ’90s exercise videos such as Cher’s Body Confidence (1992) and Jane Fonda’s Easy Going Workout (1985), which in the context seemed to suggest machinelike tune-ups for hot ladies, as well as a stack of white boxes from luxury brands in ascending sizes entitled Monochrome, 2021. (The artist Davide Stucchi pointed out to me that the bottommost box was from a pair of shoes by The Row, a surprise, since Fleury, who was walking around in head-to-toe Balenciaga—a black tracksuit by day and newsprint dress by night—is not known for her pared-down style.) Here and throughout, Fleury gleefully charges art with the spirit of commerce, flattening the gendered relationship between the museum vitrine and the point-of-sale display in the boutique: both exclusive, both expensive, both needful of theatrical support props. Nickel-plated Balenciaga Knife Pumps and gilded Gucci handcuffs gleam on plinths. Fleury plays a merry saboteuse in this exhibition—she walks on Carl Andre floors in high heels, scratches and dents panels coated in car paint, and modifies the yellow stripes of an installation made in Daniel Buren’s signature motif as though the rayures were prison bars that she has pulled apart, creating an ovoid escape hole. Her “First Spaceship on Venus” sculptures from 1999 are soft stuffed rockets, here slumped together in a timely sendup of the facile machismo of Muskian Mars missions.
Upstairs at the entrance to La Pista, Gupta’s poem 24:00:01, 2010–12, displayed on a transport terminal split-flap display, clattered through a searching, elegant text about border-crossing, war, and the nation-state riddled with deliberate misspellings, as though the words were being transmitted by a machine. Outside, in the warm, early evening air where a crowd had gathered for prosecco, the roof took on the atmosphere of a gently haunted island, elevated far above the city. Tall yellow ferns and lilac grasses nodded in the breeze amid a vast gardening project including 40,000 plants and 300 indigenous species, and I saw butterflies, bees, and birds among them, rising around the inclined loop of racetrack. Among the songbirds I could hear was one crying the names of Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, and Mario Merz, from Lawler’s seminal sound work Birdcalls, 1972/81. Spooner has transformed the factory’s immense concrete multistory car ramp into a vast resonance machine with her scored sound piece for “a cello, a building, and anything that happens to be in between them,” entitled DEAD TIME (Melody’s Warm Up), 2022. The warm notes of a cellist could be heard, playing a Suzuki-method tonalization exercise around the familiar refrains of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G, though the melody itself never arrived, curiously seeking its way around the dense concrete cylinder before starting over. A regular ping, reminiscent of a runner’s bleep test, kept the pressure on, however, in a plangent echo summoning the efficiency of the production lines that cars once spiraled between on the ramp. On the tilted end of the test track, which reaches an 8 percent incline, Leckey’s LED video screen hugged the turn, playing Beneath My Feet Begins to Crumble, 2022. The video shows dazzlingly tuned-up CGI imagery of the selfsame Piedmont Alps that could be seen around us from the roof, but epically ablaze in orange sunlight, or covered in snow in violet skies. Like a sports Jumbotron, the screen offered us a version that seemed almost more compelling than the real mountains, which looked hazy and demure by comparison. The very real peril of distraction. The flexible labor of image work as a replacement for the factory floor. The pummeled stunt car becomes a sleek supercar. Turin will become Rome. But what will become of the real mountains? Can they fix that in post?
— Laura McLean-Ferris