Looking for Innovation at the Bologna Art Fair
Stefano Pasquini




I had in mind to look for innovative work—not a particularly smart idea to look
for innovations in an art fair—but I wanted to see if I could find some new ideas,
rather than just new media. Old media is what I found most.

The Bologna art fair is possibly the most important fair in Italy, even though in recent years the Turin fair, Artissima, has been growing to welcome the most contemporary galleries of the western world. They obviously no longer come to Bologna.
Yet the Bologna fair is still a good platform to view new artists and finally see first hand the work of the artists who are represented by galleries scattered all over Italy. Even though it’s a particularly stagnant time for visual arts (unless you leave galleries alone and open up your eyes Documenta style, but this is a whole different story) it was good to see some new talents and good old work from elder masters.
This time, though, I had in mind to look for innovative work. I know, it’s not a particularly smart idea to look for innovations in an art fair, but I wanted to see if I could find some new ideas, rather than just new media.
And old media is what I found most. Bertozzi & Casoni, a rather well known couple in Italy, work with ‘old style’ ceramics, but in a rather innovative way. Their huge installations have the flavor of the Chapman brothers without its crudity, and their replicas of everyday objects, like cardboard boxes and cigarette packs, is simply amazing. I liked their untitled work of little dead monkeys, closed up in a children toy box, dead from too much alcohol and smoke like mere human beings.
Interesting was also a piece by Fabrizio Corneli, who, similarly to the British Noble & Webster, used shadow as a drawing tool. His Il peso dei sogni (the weight of dreams) consisted in a simple stick of aluminum with bits attached to it and a halogen lamp. The result is a cartoon like portrait.
This year the fair invited a number of Berlin galleries and dedicated them a – not too interesting – section in the middle of the main space. In terms of innovations, the most interesting work from Berlin was that of Lois Renner: huge Photoshop works that simply entangled your brain in the search of the right proportion of the photographed objects. A sort of Escher of the year two thousand, beautifully crafted. For certain items you simply couldn’t tell if they were two or twenty inches in size.
Another artist whose aim was to question reality in its most physical aspect is Dionis Escursa. In a work titled The Injury Escursa presented video projected couples making love in a glass case, pinned to the bottom like butterflies. Certainly a nice innovation to look at your own species as an insect to collect.
A positive aspect of the yearly fair is that all the galleries in Bologna open and have their best shows at this time. A new space called Sav offered a solo show of Sabrina Muzi. Her video titled Big showed us the artist wearing hurriedly a huge pile of clothes on top of each other. Like a bulimia sufferer she puts on clothes as a metaphor for food, wearing them until she’s unable to move, paralyzed by the unwritten laws of western society.
The adjacent Gallery of Modern Art had two of their best shows ever. Roland Recht defined Claudio Parmiggiani “the most secret artist of Italy”, and his big retrospective surprised everyone. At the fringe of the Arte Povera movement, Parmiggiani’s approach was always subtler and poetic. His beautiful installations had each a room dedicated to them. Burning walls, butterflies, amazingly bright yellow pigment to fill the floor of a room with pure color, and a huge installation of broken glass, like a maze scattered by some impatient beast, are just a few samples of this artist that I admit I know very little about. Someone to certainly study more carefully.
The second great show at GAM was Emilio Fantin’s. I already wrote about him last year, but these new works are definitely worth a mention. In a room he had strange balloon flying men attached to the walls of the gallery like the ‘borg’ to their ships in a Star Trek movie. The second room was the real masterpiece. Almost completely darkened, it took you a few seconds to adjust the eyes to see that it was full of young people resting in sleeping bag. A lot of Fantin’s works deal with dreaming, but this one to me—even though the atmosphere was calm and pacific—was more about the nightmare of re-enacting the brutal beating of the Genoa police last year, when they sent almost a hundred youngsters to hospital, beating them in their sleep in a school set up as a dorm for the protesters.
Business was quite low this year, and a few galleries told me they probably won’t be coming back to Bologna next year, opting for the more successful Artissima or Miart. It’s a shame, as a very high percentage of young successful artists live or have studied in Bologna, but the clientele here is so retro’ and provincial that innovative contemporary art is hardly a business worth mentioning. While the old school of sixties’ artists in Bologna still sells like hot cakes, there is no real support for young contemporaries, and once again Bologna will pay the price for this.
If you’re in Italy to look for contemporary art outside the Biennale time, Milan and Turin are your spots.


Bertozzi e Casoni, Senza Titolo (detail), 2003, courtesy Gianenzo Sperone, Rome.