Coordinates almost exactly of a fair idea: interview with Ilaria Bonacossa, new director of Artissima 2017
October 2017. Milan-Turin in the last few years has been an axis that has taken a clear shape: two cities very close geographically speaking, so distant in their soul but engaged to share a common future. And their future here can never leave urbanism and typicism out of consideration. We’re talking about industrial cities, dynamic cities, but also drowsy, rich but agian austere, educated and stratified cities. “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” Italo Calvino wrote this in Invisible Cities. Each city has its answer, which Ilaria Bonacossa, new director of Artissima, has listened to. She was born in Milan, and she has a Turin past working at the Sandretto Foundation, a genoese one woorking at the Villa Croce museum management in 2012, and an international background working in New York and Marsillia. Actually, thinking about it, Bonacossa caressed a past – objective even in the structures, such as the neoclassical building of Villa Croce, or the the eighteenth-century Palace of Re Rebaudengo of Guarene d’Alba – still proposing her future: since the first important exhibition to the FSRR, ExIT. New geographies of Italian creativity, a challenging exhibition bringing together eighty young italian artists, not to mention design, cinema and music, the projects for Villa Croce with such great personalities as Julieta Aranda, Tomás Saraceno, Alberto Tadiello and Tony Conrad. Then with her international profile, polite tone, centrifugal ideas well-grounded on preparation and visual field. Whatever works if the field of action is a Foundation, a Museum, a collection. Nevertheless this year Ilaria Bonacossa accepted a challenge, moving from 2.0 to 3.0, from user to customer. No longer into shows but fair, and so not just content but also market. Let us start with few numbers: 20,000 square meters of the former Olympic Stadium will host this year 206 galleries from 31 countries presenting 700 artists and 46 between curators and museum directors, for a total of 2000 artworks on display. In the last edition visitors reached the threshold of 50,000. But what is a fair today? Not only shows for sure, and not just market, or a project moment, or even just novelty.
“The past decades discovered art in the Biennials spaces, today instead everyone attends the more and more the fairs. Maybe because they more friendly, certainly they are a new kind of offer, and not least there’s the opportunity to visit them in a relative short time. Galleries from all over the globe are put together for two to three days in the same place. And as an exhibition, even a fair has an urge to have a project behind it: Mine? Selection! We have sought and privileged galleries that are making research, in order to give to high level art galleries and artists the opportunity to enter an important market place, to have visibility at a fair, in Italy, which has always have been an excellence, as a matter of facts at the fair of the superlative , –issima (the best of)”. Ilaria Bonacossa’s plan is clear, the fair intends to offer quality, research and expertise. We are not here just to sell and it has never been just this. So how to deal with what has happened in recent years — Artissima this year is 24 years old, number that reminds us that the work done so far has been decisive, going through figures such as Sarah Cosulich Canarutto, Francesco Manacorda and Alessandro Rabottini -, to keep on a continuum or to think of a new course?
“I found out that the managment of a fair — says Bonacossa — it is very similar to a newspaper. In the board there are people who work here for 18 years, responses are sometimes long and the management is usually a neuralgic point. No, I did not want to do a revolution. I wanted to combine my idea of research to the fair. We carefully choose what to propose, and we do not accept it blindly. I confirmed the sections Present Future (with curator committee composed by Cloé Perrone, independent curator, Samuel Gross, curator at the Swiss Institute of Rome, João Laia, independent curator and writer, Charlotte Laubard, art historian and independent curator), the Back to the Future section (with Curator Committee formed by Anna Daneri, independent curator and founder of Peep-Hole in Milan, Zasha Colah, independent curator and curator Pune Biennale 2017, Dora García, artist and professor of Oslo National Accademy of Arts, Chus Martinez, curator, director of the FHNW Art Institute in Basel and member of the Advisory Board of the Castle of Rivoli) and we decided to propose the new Drawings section, a space that wants to focus on this expressive form, defining a careful collecting work and why not, young. In here you can breath my experience, my years in the world of contemporary art, the work done with young artists and, last but not least, the crazy emotion that to think, to organize, to draw, to install and to inaugurate a fair can bring with it.” Ilaria Bonacossa succeeds in a direct spontaneity that makes her immediately a perfect interlocutor, no altar or laurel to celebrate, only competence and interiorization.
To arrive at an international fair — which has brought her back to Turin, which already had hosted her during the years of her curatorship at the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, from 2003 to 2009, “a city that lives its public art married with its contemporary vocation, recognizable in its foundations as well as for the private collections and for the desire of international projects” Ilaria Bonacossa says about Turin — we inevitably must go through examples and comparisons, and of course even through the great fairs that mark the calendar of contemporary art, but also the fundamental exhibitions that marked an era and indicated a manner.
So now next question is: “What were the most important exhibits in your path? And, in history, what exhibition would you have wanted to take care of?”
“I thought for very long time about it in the past and, in the end, I would say Susanne Philipsz’s at Villa Croce, a traveling project in various places all around the city, an exhibition that has taught me an unique way to talk to the spectator; of course EXIT at the FSRR because of its artistic singleness found among the multiple voices of the contemporary Italian landscape, but more than anything I do like putting a process in place, and having the courage to leave white paper to the artist, to get involved with your own idea and your own job. One show I wanted to cure? This is the first time I’m asked so, and I can just think to a project of more than ten years ago, curated by Philippe Vergne, now director of the MOCA in Los Angeles, which I saw at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, How Latitudes Become Forms, show that brought together Brazilian, South African, Chinese and Japanese, Turkish, American and Indians artists considering the influence that a new globalized culture, the incredible ease of movement of people, capital and ideas, and the network itself would have had on the contemporary art.
The very first years of globalization occured, and liquid modernity ideas really struck us.” Still, the network has changed somehow the way of doing art and selling art. Platforms, exchanges, online auctions, art advisory projects: a material world has found its virtual rib. And a fair — which still exists in the reality still works — how must it behave? “This year, Artissima will have an exclusively digital catalog, I see that the world of art that has always been used to physical and real life is now moving more and more towards the virtual, always maintaining the desire for aggregation and community. Then from all this, in collaboration with Compagnia San Paolo, Artissima Digital (Artissima.art) was born, a space dedicated to collectors and visitors that will be able to manage their agenda, preferences, artists and some selected artworks, a space where it will be possible talk to galleries and see their web content. A dedicated space both for the visitor, in whose hands we put all the information to be prepared for the exhibition experience, but also for the galleries that will have more visibility to propose artists and projects.” The message is: let’s surf the fair. To navigate, however, we need the coordinates, the latitudes and directions we talked before, cardinal points without which the art risks to become only a quantified money asset, and the market just an accounting exchange. Art is more, art is still paperwork in the magazines of the sector, “We need art criticism, magazine pages that guide us as maps in the contemporary art world; we need spaces of dialogue and opinion, we need myths but not art deities” Bonacossa confrims, even because once again the digital can be a benefit and not a limit. Vehicle of new content and not exclusive and a debaring parallel world. If money tends to virtuality, the art of the new millennium still lives in the flesh and the blood, as fairs live for researchs and knowledges, as such for their collectors, contacted and made community through specific vip programs that go to operate in major international contemporary art events. The talent can never be virtual, research can. Artissima 2017 is a fair of talents, and all of us now have the duty of discovering them.