Interview with Artissima curator Ilaria Bonacossa

Artissima is Italy’s most important contemporary art fair. Since its establishment in 1994, it has combined the presence of an international market with a focus on experimentation and research. We met the director Ilaria Bonacossa in Turin, right before the 25th edition. The following is a conversation about the upcoming edition titled “Time is on our side – Il tempo è dalla nostra parte”.


Vincenzo Estremo: What can we expect from this year’s Artissima art fair? And what can you tell us about this year’s exhibitors?

Ilaria Bonacossa: Artissima turns 25!! This calls for a celebration! Yet we decided it would be more interesting to push the model of the fair to transform itself, rather than just to look at its past glories. For this reason we are launching two projects linked to art’s capacity to transform and educate: Artissima Experimental Academy and Artissima Junior. The first, curated by Zasha Colah, will host a temporary experimental school inside the fair, led by the musician Jan St Werner (founding member of the band Mouse on Mars). It will develop as an immersive experience thanks to the partnership with COMBO, an experimental hosting model that will launch next year. The students will live together in geodesic tents just outside the fair, and will collaborate on the creation of a book/record and a collective performance. The programme will include the collaboration of lecturers on artificial intelligence and experimental music.


Ilaria Bonacossa. Foto: Silvia Pastore

Ilaria Bonacossa. Ph: Silvia Pastore


Artissima Junior, organised with Juventus and curated with Zonarte, features the Argentinian artist Alek O. who will create, together with young visitors of the fair, an immersive monumental installation where the strength of the group is essential to the overall outcome. This project is not conceived just as a space of edutainment for younger visitors, but as a way to introduce non-experts to the invention and implementation of artistic practices, in the conviction that when you approach art in an open, non-judgmental way, you will be more open to its understanding in the future.
In both projects, teamwork is connected to the idea of art as an experience that can transform and open our vision of the world.


AleK O.Credits: Lorenzo Palmieri

AleK O. Credits: Lorenzo Palmieri


VE: Sound is the new section of Artissima devoted to monographic sound projects in the contemporary art scenario, presented by galleries participating in the 2018 edition of the fair and selected by an international team of curators. What about it? What can we expect from this new project?

IB: It will be a surprise, even for us! A hybrid between an exhibition and a fair pavilion, it will showcase both younger talents and artists whose practice has made contemporary art history. My hope is that this section will be emotionally engaging for both expert collectors and curators and general visitors. Sounds seem to have the power to overcome logical mindsets and to speak to our emotions. The importance of the monumental setting is linked to a spiritual dimension that the works strive to communicate.



Yann Chateigné Tytelman and Nicola Ricciardi. Ph: Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images


VE: Many people in the art world speak of Artissima as a dazzling and interesting art fair, a fair filled with young energies. Do you still see Artissima as being a young fair?

IB: Well how did you feel at 25? Young, with the desire to have an impact, right? The fair is young in terms of energy, the desire to test new models and invent formats, which are often then absorbed by other fairs…
But Artissima also cherishes its past and its history. The special project Artissima Stories curated by Edoardo Bonaspetti and Stefano Cernuschi, in which 25 interviews are posted on the fair’s social media accounts during the three months prior to the opening, represents a fresh way to experience that history without falling into a self-congratulatory stance. The 25 interviews conducted by critics and curators with the 5 directors of Artissima, 5 curators who have been involved in its juries, 10 galleries that have written its history and 5 collectors, are full of surprises and feel very human and personal, like chatting with friends in the art world.

VE: Collections are becoming more and more connected to the financial market and speculation. Do you think is this the only way? Do you have any advice for an aspiring collector?

IB: Well, I would say: first, buy only what you like. We all know that the market takes dips and unexpected turns, so a great collection should be based on an honest passion for the works you acquire… Then: be informed, read about art, see lots of shows, talk to the artists but buy from galleries. The galleries are the gatekeepers, the true patrons of the artists. Don’t put the artist in the difficult position of having to sell herself or himself. Furthermore: remember that often the works you think are hard to understand will age better, precisely thanks to their complexity.
Finally: if you want to learn the tricks of the trade, take part in the “walkie-talkies” by Laureatana at the fair. These are special guided tours for about 20 people led by collectors, illustrating the works they are interested in, and explaining why.

VE: Do you think the art world is changing or is it just slowly getting back to business as usual?

IB: I think the world is changing and maybe not in the best way… and the art world is simply reacting to these changes. Even if the smaller (or not multinational) galleries are under pressure, they still represent an indispensable link in the process of art history, in their activities of going to studios, talking with artists, finding new talents and giving them their first shows…


JAMES RICHARDS Abyss Film, Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, 2016-2017 Installation view Courtesy Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

JAMES RICHARDS Abyss Film, Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, 2016-2017. Installation view Courtesy Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin


VE: Torino has an important industrial past. A history that has had an impact on the social and political constitution of the city. In recent years the city is changing, and its “spirit” no longer seems to be simply industrial in nature. In your view, what is the role of art in this process, and of Artissima in particular?

IB: Torino was the first Italian city to make contemporary art a distinctive focal point, already in the 1980s. It was transformed from a city of industry into a city of culture and sophisticated tourism. It hosts not only the art fair, but also the film festival where great talents are discovered, the Salone del Libro on international literature and publishing, the Salone del Gusto for an exceptional culinary experience…
The Torino model is based on effective coordinated planning and collaboration between the public sector, the Piedmont Region, the amazing Castello di Rivoli – one of the most important international contemporary art museums – and the municipal government, the two leading bank foundations (Fondazione CRT and Compagnia di San Paolo), and players from the private sector like Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Fondazione Fico, Fondazione Merz. Artissima is owned by the city and the region is an important stakeholder. The fair has constantly attracted an international audience to the city, putting Torino on the global art map.

VE: On a worldwide level, there is a tendency to cluster art events during the week of important fairs. So we are seeing a whole new crop of fairs making their debut alongside the majors. Can Torino support more than one big fair?

IB: You should probably ask the people who are organising alternative events. I believe it is clear to everyone that thanks to Artissima, during the first week of November the city becomes an international attraction and a hub for contemporary creativity. So of course private initiatives try to take advantage of the audience we bring in, and the strength of Artissima’s international communication. The interesting question could also be: would these side events even exist, or be able to survive, without the main cultural player?

VE: In the art fair business (and elsewhere) there is a trend towards globalisation. Art fairs like Art Basel now produce annual events all over the world. Do you think Artissima should become a global fair, expanding its influence outside Italy and Europe? Or do you think it should remain connected to its context?

IB: I do not believe in cultural colonialism per se, and I am firmly convinced that the model of Artissima gains strength from its specific context and its involvement in the Italian art scene. This by no means implies that it is a “local” fair! We prize the international dimension of Artissima and the fact the more than 60% of the galleries are international, and we will continue our international talent scouting. I think it would be more interesting to develop international partnerships rather than to try to duplicate our model.


Ilaria Bonacossa, foto Giorgio Perottino

Ilaria Bonacossa. Ph: Giorgio Perottino


VE: How about the new political climate in Europe? Will that have any impact on the fair at all?

IB: It will and it won’t! Meaning that it will, because many of the artists presented by galleries at the are questioning the situation in their work, and trying to draw attention to various urgent political or environmental issues, sometimes through irony, sometimes in a subtle or very serious way. We do not necessarily focus on political art, but we are certainly interested in art with a political agenda. At the same time, it won’t, because we operate in a context of total freedom and are not subject to any form of censorship or political pressure, and we encourage galleries to take the same approach. I think the multiplicity of voices permits great freedom of viewpoints within the context of the fair.

This year, Droste Effect magazine will proudly take part in Artissima 2018, in the #ArtissimaLive project, together with ATPdiary, KABUL, and Widewalls.

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by Vincenzo Estremo
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory