Time After Time

November 11, 2021
• Turin

ONE MUST BE PRETTY DETERMINED to make it all the way to Castello di Rivoli by public transport. An elderly gentleman who offered to be my guide from the Paradiso metro station strongly advised me against doing the last leg of the journey on foot. “I used to do it regularly when the museum first opened, but I’m no longer twenty-five,” he said. “The final ascent is a killer.”

Located some twenty kilometers from Turin’s city center, the formidable structure that has housed the contemporary art museum since 1984 sits atop a hill overlooking the Susa valley and the jagged peaks of the Alps. My reason for heading out there on a cold drizzly November night was the joint opening of Bracha L. Ettinger and Agnieszka Kurant’s shows, two back-to-back conversations with the artists in the museum’s auditorium, and the prospect of a dinner reception.

The evening itself had the bittersweet taste of a school reunion. Familiar (albeit masked) faces in a familiar setting, two years on. Wandering amid the artworks exhibited in the frescoed rooms of what once upon a time was the residence of the Savoy dynasty—including the “Room of the Sleeping Putti” where Ettinger’s small notebooks, scribbled over and awash with melancholy colors, were displayed in wooden cabinets—one might well think that time had come to a standstill.

Not so at Artissima, despite the familiarity of the Oval Lingotto venue, which welcomed VIPs and press the following day. I had last visited the fair before Illaria Bonacossa’s five-year stint as artistic director, which ends with this edition, and long before what Lorenzo Giusti, cocurator of the “Back to the Future” section, characterized as a “watershed year” while explaining the “20/20” conceit he and Mouna Mekouar adopted: pairing twentieth-century art with work made in the run-up to the pandemic.

Despite fewer exhibiting galleries—154 compared to 209 in 2019—and an airier presentation, the three curated sections—“Present Future,” “Disegni,” and “Back to the Future”—that once took pride of place at the fair were lumped together in the cramped Artissima XYZ section, making it impossible to step back and properly view the larger works. Each section was boiled down to just ten artists, their physical works offering a glimpse of the more expansive Artissima Digital, which grew in response to Covid-19.

Another innovation, following on from the Middle Eastern regional focus introduced before the gap year, was Hub India. Although the space allocated to it at the fair was but a fraction of the collapsed Artissima XYZ, this section, jointly curated by Indian curator Myna Mukherjee and Italian curator Davide Quadrio, continued through a museum-quality presentation at three different venues across the city center. Standouts included Prasanta Sahu’s molds of various crops and farming tools in his installation Mapping Craters, 2020–21, at Palazzo Madama and Anindita Bhattacharya’s exquisitely painted miniatures bearing visible traces of thermites at the Museo d’Arte Orientale.

As a social distancing measure, collector and patroness Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo decided to host not one but two dinner parties at her house: one for the international crowd and one for Italians. Speaking at the former, Hans Ulrich Obrist toasted fellow curator Achille Bonito Oliva, the subject of the celebratory “A.B.O. THEATRON. Art and Life” show at Castello di Rivoli (and whose birthday it happened to be), before encouraging us to give a big round of applause to the artists without whom we wouldn’t be there. “Why do they never do this for collectors?” sighed Alain Servais. (During a cab ride the next morning from Franco Noero gallery to Artissima, Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar put things into context: Servais was the foundation’s inaugural collector-in-residence—and why not?)

“This is a moment in which art must take its responsibilities,” said gallerist Armando Porcari of Roman Gallery Apart, which was showing the Russian collective CHTO DELAT. Few would disagree—not least the curators of a group show titled “Vogliamo tutto. An exhibition about labor: can we still want it all?” at OGR Torino, which included work by LaToya Ruby Frazier, Liz Magic Laser, Adam Linder, Claire Fontaine, and Jeremy Deller.

A more lighthearted approach to that weighty subject characterized Cesare Pietroiusti’s performance, staged at Norma Mangione Gallery that evening: an auction of a drawing, one in a batch of 10,000 distributed by the artist for free years before in Ljubljana on the understanding that they would never be sold, and which he subsequently found on eBay. Hitting the block with a starting price of 101 euros—one more than what the anonymous online seller had asked for it—the drawing fetched 2,001 euros. Conducted with brio by Sotheby’s auctioneer Raphaëlle Blanga, the sale was meant to redeem the shameless act of profiteering that prompted it. Call it late-capitalist catharsis.

— Agnieszka Gratza