Artissima 2019 - Inside the Fair

There is only one fair in Italy devoted exclusively to contemporary art - the one and the only Artissima!


Since Convelio was present during the triumphant three-day run of its 46th edition, held as usual in the Piedmontese capital of Turin, we wanted to give our readers a little sneak peek “Inside the Fair”...

An Art Fair to remember

With a theme exploring the duality of “Censorship and Desire” - an extremely relevant topic in recent times, given the limited intelligence of social media algorithms in discerning images and the recent censorship of Schiele and Rubens in London and Belgium - this year’s edition of Artissima continued in line with its pioneering approach. 

The Oval Lingotto Fiere was imagined by powerhouse director Ilaria Bonacossa as a reflection of host city Turin itself, with its perpendicular streets opening up into wider spaces. This year, 200,000 m2 of exhibition space welcomed 208 galleries from 43 countries (62% of international exhibitors) and displayed 2,500 individual artworks.  Of the seven sections at the fair, the most well-trafficked were probably the three that had been specially curated by an international team of museum directors and curators: 

  • “Back to the Future” aimed at rediscovering works from the 1960s to the 1990s created by pioneers of contemporary art that didn’t shine as much as they should or could have (our coup de coeur was Bruno Jakob’s Invisible Paintings in Peter Kilchmann’s booth); 
  • “Present Future” was reserved for young, emerging artists vying for the Illy Prize (of course there would be a salute to a classic Italian coffee brand in an Italian fair!); 
  • “Disegni”, curated by the Portuguese dream-team directors of Kunsthalle Lissabon, which featured the artistic and often discredited practice of drawing (Francesco Barocco truly blew us away with his delicate ode to Italian Old Masters).

A unique international Art Fair

Also of note was Hub Middle East, a focused perspective on the region’s events, artists and galleries, our favourites being DVIR Gallery, Shadi Ghadirian’s photography at Podbielski Contemporary, Yael Bartana’s fossilised automatic weapons at Sommer Contemporary Art, and Muhannad Shono’s spectacular full-booth installation of a petrol stream at Athr Gallery.  Although it is widely understood that the Middle East can be an interesting future market with a lot of untapped potential, the artists’ commentary reminds us that it is also reliant on highly unstable political and economic factors. 

What differentiates Artissima from the crowded field of international art fairs is precisely this attention to cultural, academic and curatorial details - for example, it is the only fair to organise thematic guided tours for its visitors. Naturally, serious collectors are drawn to its ethos. Belgian collector and art-fair aficionado Alain Servais tweeted that Artissima is a healthy contrast to other fairs that can feel like “shopping malls” full of branded products.

Of course, the Main Section always includes galleries established on the international stage like Galleria Continua (where an overwhelmed guest actually fell on a sculpture in the middle of the booth!). However, because the participation fees are lower relative to other fairs, the gallerists are free to take bigger commercial risks by presenting their more accessible, often younger artists. Since they are lesser known, the visitors focus on learning their artistic approach instead of their economic pull, and this works to alleviate what if often called “fair fatigue”. 

Art Market's results

This talent scouting allows the collectors who attend Artissima (approximately 5,500 for this edition) to purchase works at affordable prices compared to the actual value of the artists. Even the 22% VAT imposed on the sales in Italy does not seem so penalising when they manage to have a five-year advance on the emerging artist’s career; for example, the winners of the aforementioned Illy Prize are presented in museums and foundations three to five years after their debut.

Speaking of sales, we would be remiss not to mention one of our favourite installations, Blue Pen (2018) by Augustas Serapinas, which was sold to the Italian designer Luca Bombassel for €35,000. This young artist is known for creating site-specific art that builds on narratives and interviews. In this case his installation - composed of many blue-toned bread loaves on a metallic structure - drew from an event relating to forty years ago. Clow, an engineering company, was hired by a neighbouring bakery. The inspection platforms were placed over the bakery’s large industrial mixing bowls, and upon completion of the project, one of the engineers leaned over the handrail and his blue pen fell into the bowl, staining the equivalent of ten thousand bread loaves in what was ironically their company colour - a blue RAL 5017. 

A less joyful note was struck by the virtual reality installation presented by Jordan Wolfson in the Sadie Coles booth, which was bought by Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea for an undisclosed amount. As soon as the users put on the goggles and earphones, they were presented with a scene of senseless violence, a man beating a defenseless victim on the street, followed by a Hebrew prayer. Watching some of the users ripping off their goggles at the first whack of the baseball bat, just a few seconds into the two-minute VR experience, seemed like a meta-installation in and of itself. 

It would be impossible to detail the countless artworks that resonated with us as we walked around Artissima’s busy corridors. However, just to name a few if you were unable to attend, we would like to mention: Tulio Pinto’s Complicity #14 (Piero Atchugarry Gallery), Superstudio’s disintegrating salt sculptures La Moglie di Lot (Galleria Pinksummer), Gianni Politi’s La Pancia del Serpente (Lorcan O’Neill), Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Smartphone - giovane con borsa (Galleria Giorgio Persano), Jesse Mockrin’s Game (Night Gallery), and what was easily the most instagrammable piece in the entire fair, Anna Franceschini’s Villa Straylight (Vistamare/Vistamarestudio), a series of rotating wigs attached to a mechanical oblong, with a lonesome wig twitching in agony on the floor underneath them. Of course a big shout-out should also go to the gallerists themselves, for their composition of beautiful booths that highlight their artists and entice our curiosity (we are looking at you, Espacio Minimo!). 


With more than 55,000 visitors, 5,500 collectors, and 400 museum directors and curators in attendance, it is fair to say that we were not the only ones that really appreciated this edition of Artissima. We are already looking forward to seeing what Director Bonacossa has in store for next year’s edition (6-8 November 2020), but we hope that the creative energy and experimental practices remain at this stellar height. 

November 13, 2019