Brava, Artissima! The fair at the heart of the contemporary art community
The Artissima art fair in Turin gave collectors a chance to buy works by artists who could be future leading lights of the art world.
Artissima, the annual contemporary art fair, has just closed its 30th edition. The fair ran from 2-5 November in Turin’s Oval Lingotto arena, and 181 Italian and international galleries took part.
Launched in 1994, Artissima is Italy’s only major fair devoted exclusively to contemporary art – and in 2023 Intesa Sanpaolo served as its main partner for a fourth year. Just under half of the galleries were Italian; the rest hailed from 32 different countries worldwide.
Visitor numbers were high (in excess of 34,000) and sales figures impressive. Standout sales included that of Experiência do lugar II (2004), Portuguese artist Helena Almeida’s black-and-white photograph of herself kneeling in penitent pose with her back to us and her head cropped from the picture. This was bought from Lisbon’s Galeria Francisco Fino by a private European collector for £100,000.
Artissima prides itself on being about more than just sales, however.
"This is not a fair for confirming the reputation of artists who are already established. It’s a fair for seeking out discoveries, a chance to find something new."
Luigi Fassi, director, Artissima (in the picture on the right)
This year, some 39 galleries were exhibiting in Turin for the first time. There was even a section called New Entries, in which 17 emerging galleries from around the world were invited to take a booth. (By “emerging”, Artissima’s selection committee specified a gallery that is less than five years old that had not previously taken part in the fair.)
Fassi says: “Based on three decades of practice, and thanks to intense scouting on a global level, the fair is able to offer collectors an early chance to buy the works of artists who before long will become protagonists of the art world.”
One example was RESERVOIR, a gallery founded in Cape Town in 2021. Its booth showed work by South African artist Inga Somdyala, whose series of abstract canvases were decorated with soil, ash, chalk and oxides rather than (as one might have thought at first sight) paint. Consisting of thick bands of individual colours, these resemble flags of non-existent countries and allude to the Apartheid history in Somdyala’s homeland.
Another exhibitor in the New Entries section was HOA Galeria, which was founded in São Paulo in 2020. Its booth showed an eye-catching set of paintings by Brazilian artist Renan Aguena, all of them inspired by the tropical vegetation he encountered while carrying out his previous job as a truck driver.
As the fair’s main partner, Intesa Sanpaolo presented a booth that exhibited a selection of photographic works by environmental artist Luca Locatelli. These were a product of Locatelli’s long-standing exploration of sustainable industrial development through nature-based solutions.
On a visit to the Spanish region of Galicia, for example, he shot a bed of molluscan shellfish, a species which boasts very high levels of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium. It’s said that, if farmed properly, molluscan shellfish could provide a key to helping ease global malnutrition.
Locatelli’s half a dozen photographs on show at Artissima were actually a complement to a much larger exhibition of works from the same series. The Circle – Solutions for a Possible Future is open until 18 February 2024 at the Gallerie d’Italia – Torino, Intesa Sanpaolo’s museum in Turin. (Opened in the spring of 2022 and located on the city’s grandest square, Piazza San Carlo, the museum is one of four established by Intesa Sanpaolo across Italy. It is dedicated chiefly to photography, and The Circle occupies its principal gallery space.)
“We like the fair to extend the beyond the confines of Oval Lingotto,” Fassi says, “and we engage a great deal with the city’s institutions to take art across town.” Indeed, pretty much every one of Turin’s many major contemporary art venues opened an exhibition to coincide with Artissima – from the Fondazione Merz and the Officine Grandi Riparazioni to the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea.
Gallerie d’Italia – Torino actually hosted a second show alongside The Circle. Called The Human Condition, it featured eight videos and one sound work capturing little-known features of Planet Earth, all by artists represented by galleries taking part in Artissima. (The exhibition has now closed.)
The guiding theme for this year’s edition of the fair was Relations of Care, a concept developed by the anthropologist Renzo Taddei, and through which a sense of care towards nature and its species should be the primary goal of the advancement of knowledge. The organisers of Artissima see this concept mirrored in the cultivation of caring relations between a network of artists, gallerists, collectors and partners – in a bid to create an artistic community around the fair.
Intesa Sanpaolo is very much at the heart of that community. Its involvement in Artissima forms part of the bank’s Progetto Cultura, a long-term initiative aimed at improving society through cultural enrichment alongside economic enrichment. Manifested in countless ventures across Italy – involving art, music, cinema, theatre and more – Progetto Cultura has no equivalent among financial institutions in Europe.
“This year we shared at Artissima a special example of our work with photography and our concern for the crises of the global present,” says Michele Coppola, executive director of art, culture and historic heritage at Intesa Sanpaolo and director of the Gallerie d’Italia. “We brought a spectacular set of images by Luca Locatelli, complementing those from The Circle on show at the Gallerie d’Italia – Torino, telling stories from across Europe of caring for the planet through a circular economy.
“In terms of Intesa Sanpaolo’s involvement with the fair more broadly, contemporary art is a distinctive feature of Turin’s cultural life. Supporting it via the bank’s continued partnership with Artissima is an important element of Progetto Cultura.
“Intesa Sanpaolo is proud to partner a fair bringing to Italy the highest expression of contemporary art from across the world.”