All swords were drawn at what is easily one of the most challenging, competitive art fairs in Europe at the 2013 edition of ARTISSIMA. Directed by Sarah Cosulich Canarutto (curator of the Villa Manin Centre for Contemporary Art (Udine) from 2004 to 2008), the fair attracted over 130 galleries from across three continents, divided into five sectors.
The Main Galleries Section featured significant programs representing artists of all imaginable mediums: traditional painting, drawing, installation, video and new media, sculpture and documentations of live performance. The primary modes of presentation appeared to be video, photography and two-dimensional works, further emphasizing a growing penchant for portability in a highly-globalized art market. Strength of content and intellectual rigor was the primary objective for these galleries, however, and not commercial appeal. 404 Contemporary (Berlin) showed Torino-based Manuele Cerutti’s small, neutral-toned paintings that appeared to be reformed, removed and reinstated memories from objects in his studio. Braverman Gallery came from Tel Aviv showcasing a series of penetrating video works from Gilat Ratman (who occupied the Israeli Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale). Athens/Thessaloniki-based Kalfayan Galleries created an impressive presentation with large-scale photographs of an abandoned housing project in Damascus from Hrair Sarkissian and exquisite drawings from Dimitris Tataris (reminiscent of the painstaking techniques of Raqib Shaw, Paul Noble and Sarah Sze). Two Rome-based galleries had powerhouse works on display: Valentina Bonomo (whose gallery is located in the fashionable district of the Old Jewish Ghetto) presented three glossy Julian Opie portraits, while Magazzino boasted a hauntingly crimson photographic work from Alessandro Piangiamore and quietly disorienting black-and-white slides of Dutch Veenhuizen (part of a 19th century reform housing colony in the tiny village of Noordenveld) from Domenico Mangano.
In the New Entries Section (for galleries founded after 2008), notable booths included Copenhagen-based Andreas Henningsen’s eponymous booth featuring smooth, bulbous boomerang floor sculptures from Lea Porsager and burned-out canvases from New York-based Kasper Sonne. Proyectos Ultravioleta (Guatemala City) attracted particular attention: in addition to being selected for the New Entries sector, their artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa was awarded a dedicated space at the Castello di Rivoli Museo dell’ Arte Contemporaneo as part of the One Torino initiative. Hailing from Venice, Galleria Upp provided clever neon signage by Michal Martychowiec and among only a handful of American galleries, Johannes Vogt brought Garth Evans’ geometric Gift Horse (1990) wall sculpture.
ARTISSIMA’s Present Future section was a unique selection of complex solo projects chosen by a series of young international galleries. Youth also played a role for the sections’ curators, which included MOCA (North Miami’s) Assistant Curator and Interim Director Alex Gartenfield, Gasworks London’s Exhibition Curator Robert Lackie and Curator Qinyi Lim Para Site, Hong Kong. Another section, called Back To The Future, featured works by artists created exclusively between the late 1960’s and 1989, which solidified the fair’s recognition of past as being influential and integral to the successes of the present and future.
Possibly the most satisfying element of ARTISSIMA was the strong presence of Italian galleries: further reinforcing the robustness of Italian artists and curators among the global art elite, these galleries were not just ‘tokens’ of the host nation but often presented the fairs’ strongest work. Some weaknesses were the efficiency of transport to and from the fair (the trek to One Torino at Castello di Rivoli is anything but convenient without the express aid of a private car or taxi) and the responsiveness of fair administration via email. Luckily, these are problems that pale in comparison to the experience of a show that offers truly engaging programming without the flamboyance of an Art Basel Miami Beach-type or the apparent snobbery of a Liste or NADA venue. The prowess of the curators is transparent, the effort of the galleries in their choices was commendable and the artists, themselves, we’re enthusiastically supported by collectors, curators and critics, alike. This one, included.