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