Crackdown on Cash Transactions Hurts Artissima Dealers
But the Italian fair's experimental approach wins out in the long run.
Entering Artissima is a bit like stepping into one giant slideshow of the kind of high-contrast hyper-cool art that’s come to the fore in recent years, popularized by platforms like Contemporary Art Daily, DIS magazine, and others. The fair is fresh, young, and largely without well-established artist brands.
The fair’s management and its loyal collectors tout it as a “platform for discover.” It lives up to that hype. Where sales are concerned, however, experiences varied dramatically across the Oval Lingotto last week, something dealers concurred was something they had come to expect from the Turin fair.
For some, like Berlin’s Peres Projects, Artissima was a resounding success. “It’s not just how much we sold but who we sold to,” gallery director Nick Koenigsknecht told artnet News just hours into the fair’s Thursday preview. By that time, the gallery’s booth of works by Mike Bouchet, Marinella Senatore, Mark Flood, and collective Leo Gabin was largely sold out and half of the works in their simultaneous presentation of Dan Attoe at New York’s Independent Projects were also going to Artissima collectors (see “Independent Projects Hosts a Winning Mix of Galleries“).
Success at Artissima, like that of Peres, can be largely attributed to relationships developed with some of the fair’s well-heeled local collectors. The city is home to car manufacturer Fiat and its former owners, the Agnelli family, as well as Patrizia Sandretto’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, which hosted an annual dinner on Friday night. (Her son Eugenio Re Rebaudengo’s venture Artuner held a collateral exhibition of Adriano Costa, Max Ruf, and Sebastian Lloyd Rees in a former industrial space the night before.) Milan’s wealth of contemporary art-loving fashion houses is also only an hour away, thanks to a recently introduced bullet train service.
The fair’s participants also benefit from an ongoing relationship with the Fondazione CRT, run by the Cassa di Risparmio di Torino Banca. In 2014, Artissima director Sarah Cosulich Canarutto estimated that the foundation would drop the equivalent of about €300,000 at the fair. “But they get good discounts,” she told artnet News with a smile. A press release on Sunday confirmed that they spent €360,000 on five works at the fair, including pieces by William Kentridge and Hans-Peter Feldmann. In previous years, the group reportedly spent as much as €600,000. More recently, the sum has landed around €350,000, likely due to Italy’s economic woes.
But it isn’t just continued difficultly in shaking off the financial crisis that has put a damper on sales at Artissima in recent years. According to multiple dealers, increased oversight into cash transactions at the fair, which were limited to no more than €1,000 in December of last year, has seemed to scare off some of its less savory but spendthrift collectors. The government sees those transactions as a convenient method of tax avoidance and of laundering money.
One dealer told artnet News that the authorities visited the fair “last year and asked what we had sold, for how much, and to whom,” having suspected below-board activity. Others reported turning away cash transactions this year but recalled times when such transitions were the norm and numerous.
Even those that didn’t sell a single piece at Artissima were surprisingly pleased with having participated, however. To its credit, the fair is cheap relative to most other fairs: the smallest booths start at just under €4,000 (equal to participating with no walls at Art Berlin Contemporary) and the very largest booth still wouldn’t crack €20,000. “We want to create an opportunity for galleries to do things that they wouldn’t have the chance to do at a fair like Basel where it’s really important to sell” due to participation costs, Cosulich Canarutto told artnet News. “We want to offer the opportunity to collectors and visitors to see artists for the first time,” she added.
The latter is achieved through a vast undertaking by the fair to include curators at all levels of its selection process. Around 50 of them were said to be involved in varying roles leading up to this year’s fair—and most if not all of them visited the fair as well.
For many like nascent Parisian gallery High Art’s Jason Hwang, both factors spurred them to take a completely non-commercial approach to Artissima. “We go to certain fairs to sell, and we go to certain fairs just to show” he told artnet News on Thursday afternoon. “Here, we’re obviously not going to sell anything, but we’re getting out of it exactly what we wanted.”
The gallery was part of the fair’s “Present Future,” a curated section dedicated to solo positions of emerging artists, where they showed a video work by American artist Rachel Rose. No doubt adding to Hwang’s satisfaction with the fair, Rose won the Illy Present Future Award on Friday, securing her a solo show at the nearby, critically-acclaimed museum, Castello di Rivoli next year.
Artissima has remained a hit with more seasoned dealers too thanks to its “Back to the Future” section, which features recently-resurgent artists from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. In 2014, the section wooed back Berlin’s Aurel Scheibler who offered a bijou presentation of German abstract sculptor Norbert Kricke after what a director said was approximately 10 years away from the fair for the gallery. LA’s François Ghebaly Gallery won the section’s prize, however, for its presentation of recently deceased artist Channa Horwitz. In total, €45,000 worth of prizes were presented over the fair’s four day run.
Some of Artissima’s most exciting moments didn’t even take place in the Oval Lingotto. Due to the fair being a city initiative, its objectives aren’t merely commercial. And, for the second time, it funded One Torino, an off-site exhibition this year called “Shit and Die” and curated by the ever-popular Maurizio Cattelan.
Sixty artists from Tracey Emin and George Condo to Julius von Bismarck and Alexandre Singh participate in the show, which runs through mid-January. It’s split up into seven sections, each of which focuses on a particular peculiarity of Turin’s history. “He curated a Berlin Biennale,” Cosulich Canarutto said of Cattelan; “maybe he curated this even more.” Like most Cattelan shows—both those of his own work and those that he’s curated—it’s Instagram-friendly fodder: often provocative and sometimes interesting.
But in the context of an art fair, it’s a pretty remarkable addition and an exhibition that wouldn’t be out of place in a Venice palazzo during the biennale. It’s this kind of concentrated yet experimental effort that keeps galleries coming back to Artissima despite the fair’s sluggish market—collectors and curators too. After all, how bad can a week in Piedmont during truffle season really be?
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