The twentieth edition of Artissima, named one of the world's best art fairs by Skate's Art Market Research last year, was placed in the spotlight last week as it had to face the challenge to live up to its previous successes despite the economic crisis in Italy.(1)

From a curatorial point of view, the director Sara Cosulich Canarutto, organised an excellent fair. However, the 2012 edition of the fair was marked by a more enthusiastic experimentation while this year’s exhibitors played it safe, relying on more established artists rather than the unexpected.

Having made this observation, it is important to acknowledge the lively atmosphere welcoming the public at the entrance of the Oval.  The futuristic building designed for speed skating during the Winter Olympics in 2006, was filled with a buzzing crowd of art enthusiasts and collectors eager to buy.

This contagiously vibrant and glamorous atmosphere was most striking given the difficult financial situation. Is this a sign that Italy is not ready to give up just yet, coming up instead with innovative and creative solutions to face the crisis?

Particularly, one of the main ideas emerging from Turin last week is that a dialogue and exchange between dealers, collectors and public institutions is core for an economic upturn.

The colourful floor plan sums up this dominant theme throughout the fair, showing how spaces devoted to the commercial environment and 190 exhibitors from around the world coexisted with public talks given by curators and stands about museums.

Figure 2: Fair Map, Artissima 2013. Image courtesy the author

The wide range of initiatives around Turin: exhibitions in the five main museums in town, the Club to Club electronic music festival, “The Others” (an alternative art Fair in the former prison of the city) and many other satellite events and gallery openings, further demonstrate the attempt to bridge the gap between private and public in order to animate an Italian contemporary art scene which, even during hard times, has a lot to offer.

Italy seems full of energy to react to the recession. If the excellent quality of the exhibits, resulting in strong sales, well describes the situation of the private art market, it is important to draw one's attention to the equally dynamic reaction of museum sector to the crisis.

The museum scene gathered together under the charismatic personality of Patrizia Asproni, President of the Industria e Cultura Foundation, who opened the AMIEX workshop at the preview of Artissima.

AMIEX, Art and Museum International Exhibition Xchange was born to support and export Italian culture through exhibitions. AMIEX is working towards an event scheduled for March 2014, where museum professionals will meet to develop, exchange and collaborate for the production of exhibitions and cultural events.

Figure 3: AMIEX Turin "The Culture Stock Exchange"
Image courtesy the author

Besides Dr. Asproni, the workshop included various important personalities within the museum scene: Dr. Fabio Achilli, President of the Fondazione di Venezia, Dr. Alberto Garlandini, President of the International Council Of Museums Italia, Dr. Guido Guerzoni, Researcher for the Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management at Bocconi University and Dr. Carina Jaatinen, Board Member of the International Committee for Exhibition Exchange.

“Within the art world, exhibitions are the business card of a country,” began Asproni as she addressed the public at the preparatory workshop for the March 2014 AMIEX event. With a very frank and passionate approach she underlined the present inability of Italy to export its culture through exhibitions. This is where AMIEX is coming from: trying to raise the number of exported exhibitions, or – using Asproni's metaphor – providing Italy with more opportunities to hand out its business cards.

According to research, Italy needs a more proactive approach, especially concerning contemporary art. Fabio Achilli and Guido Guerzoni found that this discipline attracts 60% of the visitors to temporary exhibitions in Italy, followed by photography with just 14%.

The cost of putting together an exhibition in times of recession is often not sustainable for the average duration of the show, which is 3 to 6 months. Currently, most exhibitions in Italy are thus bought ready-made by other museums. In many cases, Italy is even lending pieces to exhibitions that are subsequently brought to Italy by Italian museums, highlights Guerzoni, stressing the absurdity of a situation that definitely needs to be rectified.

According to the speakers, the solution to this paradoxical situation, is to go beyond the distinction between public and private and to encourage the collections’ mobility.

AIMEX's final aim is to create a market place for exhibitions to enable museum professionals to sustain the costs of producing shows by prolonging their life cycle. “We shouldn't be afraid of trading in exhibitions. Selling an exhibition to another museum enhances the visibility of the exhibits, making them accessible to a wider public,” states Asproni. “Moreover, an Italian exhibition might get visitors intrigued in Italian culture, thus stimulating them to come to Italy and visit our museums.”

I usually leave Italy with a both sense of guilt for abandoning my country while it is sinking, and gratitude for being able to live and work in London. But this time, I left Turin feeling extremely inspired by the energy and the premise with which the Italian private and public art world is trying to face the crisis.

Figure 4: Artissima Stand for Massimo da Carlo, Milan | London.
Image courtesy the author


1. Skate's Annual Art Investment Report, 2012, New York, part 2,  pg. 13.

Cover Image: The Oval, Artissima 2013. Image courtesy the author