In Milan, Miart Returns, With Its New Director Doing Everything—Including Sending Poetry—to Lure Galleries. Here’s How It’s Going

With Art Basel looming next week, a packed schedule loomed as an issue at the first post-pandemic edition of the fair.

Philippe Decrauzat, Broadcasting delay red (2020). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Lange + Pult. Miart 2021, installation view, photo by Paolo Valentini.
Philippe Decrauzat, Broadcasting delay red (2020). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Lange + Pult. Miart 2021, installation view, photo by Paolo Valentini.

For Milan’s art scene, the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Miart is an important event. In a city that was hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the return of the fair has reignited the Italian and specifically Milanese art market with a palpable sense of excitement. Still, Miart’s timing just one week before Art Basel brings its own problems, with several dealers scrambling to do both fairs. Some galleries including Hauser & Wirth, Thaddaeus Ropac, Massimo De Carlo, and Marian Goodman have withdrawn.

In addition to being the first art fair taking place in Milan since Miart’s last edition back in April 2019, this is also the first under new artistic director Nicola Ricciardi, former director of Turin’s art-and-innovation hub Officine Grandi Riparazioni. Held September 17-19 at Milano Convention Centre, it assembles 142 exhibitors, mostly Italian, down from 179 pre-pandemic.

“It’s been extremely challenging to take on the fair in this context, given the earthquake and breakdown of communication between fairs and galleries,” Ricciardi tells Artnet News. “My job was to rebuild the trust of the galleries and dismantle the silence, so in my first two months I called 200 blue-chip and emerging galleries. We decided not to give them a discount but do a smaller fair whilst keeping the same quality before reverting back to April next year.”

While most visitors are Italian, Ricciardi says that “20 American visitors are coming this weekend.”

To “break the silence,” Ricciardi started emailing poems to cultural players. The level of reciprocity inspired him to launch the project “Starry Worlds,” inviting artists having exhibitions in Milan to send verses of their favorite poems that are displayed on screens in the fair’s lounges. “Maurizio Cattelan sent me verses from a Kurdish poet and Simon Fujiwara sent me verses from Shakespeare,” he says.

Opening of Miart 2021. Photo by Paolo Valentini.

Opening of Miart 2021. Photo by Paolo Valentini.

A Packed Calendar

Returning to the newly intense September calendar is a wake-up call for galleries doing Miart and Art Basel back-to-back. “Last year we slowed down a lot but now we’re back in the rhythm of fairs,” says Paola Potena at Lia Rumma, which sold a sculpture by William Kentridge, $250,000-350,000, and a painting by Ettore Spalletti, €120,000, at the opening.

Several dealers echoed this sentiment. “It’s hard for our team and half of us have to leave at the weekend to set up the booth at Art Basel,” laments Astrid Welter, director of Kaufmann Repetto. The gallery is presenting a solo show on Adrian Paci, including paintings (one of which has sold for €20,000) and photography, to coincide with the unveiling of his public sculpture commissioned by ArtLine Milano in the city’s sculpture park on Saturday.

William Kentridge, <em>Processione di Riparazionisti</em> (2019). Photo © Roberto Marossi, Courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan/Naples.

William Kentridge, Processione di Riparazionisti (2019). Photo © Roberto Marossi, Courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan/Naples.

Nonetheless, exhibitors are pleased to be back in the swing of things. “It’s not easy, but we have the enthusiasm and adrenaline to do the fairs, and a physical presence is an essential element of our job,” says Michele Casamonti, director of Tornabuoni, which has sold works by Emilio Isgrò, €300,000-400,000, Alighiero Boetti, €100,000, and Mimmo Paladino, €200,000-300,000. “It’s courageous that Miart is doing two fairs in six months.”

The September calendar’s change of pace suggests the adaptability required by galleries during the pandemic. “For the last 18 months, we’ve had to adapt and readapt constantly and nobody knows when this situation will really end,” muses Patrice Cotensin, director of Galerie Lelong (Paris/New York), which has sold a 1970s photograph by David Hockney for €15,000. “We have a lot of Italian clients and everybody is pleased to see each other again,” Cortensin adds.

After a year of online viewing rooms, some galleries are racing around to exhibit in numerous fairs this fall. Miart is one of six in which Galleria Continua is participating, along with Art Paris, Art Shenzhen, Frieze, FIAC, and Artissima. “Our strength is that we are also local galleries, although we have international artists, as we have physical spaces in several cities,” says director Mario Cristiani, who has sold works by Loris Cecchini (€40,000) and Osvaldo González (€6,000). “Now it’s easier to do national rather than international fairs as the local [market] is becoming more important than before.”

Mary Ellen, <em>Because. (DIRTIER THAN STRONG) </em>(1999). © 1999 Mary Ellen Carroll/ MEC studios.Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hubert Winter. Miart 2021, installation view, photo by Paolo Valentini.

Mary Ellen, Because. (DIRTIER THAN STRONG) (1999). © 1999 Mary Ellen Carroll/ MEC studios.Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hubert Winter. Miart 2021, installation view, photo by Paolo Valentini.

The Allure of Milan

Certainly, Milanese collectors attended the buzzy preview in droves. Comparing Miart to more international fairs, Franco Calarota, director of Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, remarks, “There’s a fundamental difference between this and other fairs: Milanese collectors take taxis to come here. They don’t need to catch a plane.”

While Miart is missing some of the mega galleries, this edition marks the return of Franco Noero, which has devoted its booth to Lara Favaretto. “Normally Miart clashes with SP-Arte in Brazil in April so we were unable to come for the last few previous editions,” the gallery’s Pierpaolo Falone explains.

Francesca Gabbiani, <em>Surfette 18 (Kassia)</em> (2021). Courtesy Monica De Cardenas, Milan/Zuoz/Lugano.

Francesca Gabbiani, Surfette 18 (Kassia) (2021). Courtesy Monica De Cardenas, Milan/Zuoz/Lugano.

The calendar saturation has led some galleries to opt for Miart over Art Basel. “We prefer to support our city and not travel at the moment,” says Monica de Cardenas, whose gallery has sold works by Francesca Gabbiani (for €5,000), Gideon Rubin, and Zilla Leutenegger.

“Normally we participate in Liste but we’re not doing it this year as we’re waiting to enter the main fair,” says Lodovico Corsini, director of Clearing (Brussels/New York). At Miart, the gallery has a solo presentation on Marguerite Humeau (including sculptures, €28,000-48,000, and paintings, €25,000, inspired by the vegetal world), ahead of her sculpture commission for Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Art Park in Guarene, which will be inaugurated next month.

Marguerite Humeau, <em>Lunaria, the feeling that you might be witnessing the birth of new universes as you are staring at the starry skies on a very dark summer night</em> (2021). Photo © Benjamin Baltus. Courtesy of the artist and Clearing, New York/ Brussels.

Marguerite Humeau, Lunaria, the feeling that you might be witnessing the birth of new universes as you are staring at the starry skies on a very dark summer night (2021). Photo © Benjamin Baltus. Courtesy of the artist and Clearing, New York/ Brussels.

Some exhibitors see an advantage in Miart and Art Basel taking place one week apart. “It’s good that they’re very close because clients that do both can travel from one to the other,” says Pietro Sforza, London sales director of Robilant + Voena, which has sold works by Arnaldo Pomodoro, €30,000, and by Gilberto Zorio, €150,000. The gallery, however, is not participating in Art Basel.


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