Category Archives: The Port for Thought

Artissima 2013 Turin: No money, no baubles…but refined stoicism!

Artissima 2013
Turin hosts the largest contemporary art fair in Italy, and this year saw its 20th year. The fair teams up with the town’s large and influential institutions – Castello di Rivoli, GAM, Fondazione Sandretto, Fondazione Merz etc and gathers a lineup of international artists and curators to draw attention to itself and bring people in.

Oiled by money from nobody knows where, this strategy works. A dinner at Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s house (a casual sit-down for 280, though the food was unpleasant) had Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gregor Muir, Beatrix Ruff, Matthew Higgs and the directors of every museum in Italy there. That these people come to Turin is important because if the fair is anything, it is a fair of ideas and conversations, and not one of actual sales.

The fair itself is a very Italian affair, the vast majority of galleries being Italian, and although there was a presentable selection of galleries from Europe there was a very thin presence from the US and Asia. I spoke to a powerful German gallerist who said that they didn’t make any money here, that they never make any, but they never expect to, and so they come to Artissima with different ambitions that are nonetheless worthwhile. Beautiful and impeccably thought-out booths, with difficult and interesting work in a large and elegant hall. Absent are the crazy multi-coloured baubles that compete with each other for your attention in the big top known as Frieze.

There were booths entirely dedicated to obscure dead Latin American conceptual artists – museum-quality stuff worth seeing, and impossible to see in a more commercially minded fair. Video pieces, drawings, archival material…These booths talk not only to the enlightened collector – yes some do have brains – but to serious curators, writers and artists. The only problem being that serious collectors are a dwindling species.

Sales are never good for anyone, not even the Italian galleries, and this year was particularly poor. However, and it is a big ‘however’, much business was done there. Aside from galleries hooking curators up with their artists, Italian collectors don’t suffer the disease of the English and Americans that they must buy it now before someone else has it, and if no-one else wants it in the first five minutes then it is undesirable and therefore bad art.

The Italians take their time. They see the work on the first evening, and perhaps buy it on the last afternoon of the fair. Or maybe they call up the dealer 6 months later and buy something then. Italy creates and is sustained by lifelong collectors that support artists all their lives. It would be hard to imagine the 26 year old hedgefunders prepared to make that sort of long-term commitment on a five second decision to buy the most expensive thing on a booth at the opening of Frieze.

The best Arte Povera collections in the world are in the hands of Italian doctors and dentists, who bought well, and were trusted by non-greedy dealers. Turin faces a double challenge however. One the one hand its museums are being seriously squeezed for funding in a way that makes the Arts Council cuts in England seems like a minor trim. This will have the potential to make it increasingly harder to attract the big serious artists and the big curators so useful in drawing international attention. (there is also a further danger that in their bid for more cash the institutions fall into the hands of the mega-galleries, and become market-oriented showrooms for the display of tacky luxury goods – e.g. the Thomas Houseago show at the Galleria Borghese).

The second prong in the fork is the presence of the new Milan Art Fair, which will potentially drain the more commercially minded galleries, as the new rich collectors would naturally prefer the kitsch Louis Vuitton and Prada attractions of Milan over the refined stoicism of Turin. If Turin models itself as the most intellectual fair on the circuit – a real testing ground for ideas  – then it could perhaps survive, and maybe even be that thing that all art fairs are desperate to be at the moment – unique.

Shirley House

Thought for the week!

“It’s really complex to make something simple.”

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter

Silence rather than forward guidance: Sweet Pea on Lou Reed

What do you do when God dies?

On 27th October 2013 Lou Reed died.  I believed every word he said.

I first met Lou/God, when I was eleven years old in the album ‘Berlin’.  A sepia album cover with a daisy chain of young beautiful people around its centre; enclosed a fragile vinyl disc.  To be precise 43.39 minutes of intense, Berlin drug-based, misery about a woman called Caroline. My young mind was blown away by the depravity and unrelenting sadness of his words.  I secretly wondered what it could mean only to make love by proxy; was this really the lowest a person could fall? I was totally taken in.

The perfect God for a small town teen, Lou’s devoted attention was available for the price of a disc. I have been amazed by how many friends around the world had this same intimate relationship. By carefully placing the needle on the record I was transported from the rainy reality of my attic bedroom to the seamy side of New York city, the place I truly belonged.  It was a place where Edie Sedgwick made love for sixty-four hours in a row and people overdosed on brown sticky heroin and only had one pair of leather trousers.  I took vicarious pleasure in this raw but fragile world that, of course, I hardly understood. I wondered who Lou loved and if they were perfect enough and if love would make him happy.

Lou must have had a very low pulse, he was so cool.  He was only just alive. We never knew if he was warm or cold blooded. In retrospect perhaps, he was cold blooded, just trying to get warm. He was cool. So cool. He was cool as fuck. He made rock star attitudinal indifference his own. The message was clear, the signature aviators, T-shirt and jeans, and in the early years, a cigarette hung nonchalantly from his lips, Lou was a God of the people  and when you were listening to Lou, as long as the record was turning you, too, were a native New Yorker and invited to party. In a way he democratised the scene and was happy to share it with everyone who bought a record and paid the entrance fee.

It is quite hard to separate the myth and music from the man. This week’s outpouring of stories and opinions has certainly shone a light on my teenage idol. He was born in Brooklyn to an affluent middle class Jewish family. He was a rebel and a drug dealer. He suffered the brutalities of electro-shock therapy to “correct” his homosexuality and also studied literature and film at Syracuse University. God learnt to write popular songs, to deal drugs and to play the guitar while oscillating towards the hippest of the hip.  Like a nineteenth century flaneur, he gravitated towards the seamiest side of the city, to drugs, prostitution, to transsexuals and low rent. He quickly rose to the top of this world and found himself as a performer at the court of its king, Andy Warhol. The story of the Velvet Underground is well known and when it came to an end one can only imagine what the time he spent working for his father as a clerk in Long island was like. A desperate attempt to regain a kind of normality but there could be no turning back, no settling. He fled and launched his solo career, and the rest is history……

What surprises me the most about the response to Lou’s death is just how mixed the sentiments are. Not everyone thought he was a God. He is not unconditionally lauded. No one dares to dispel the raw authenticity of Reed or the genius of some of his songs and the significance of his influence on music. But he was not a well-loved man. Even his greatest fans have felt obliged to give some reference to the uglier side to his character.  He hit his girlfriend, he would not share his drugs, he was always in a bad mood and not all of his work was good.  My God was not a warm and fuzzy sandal wearer, he was considerably more old testament than that and without lowering him to the indignities of popular analysis, if he were so brutal with others one can only imagine just how hard he must have been on himself. Not content to be just in a rock and roll band, in later life he also needed to be the next Shakespeare, to write the Great American Novel as well.  Even when close to death, he needed to be a miracle of modern medicine, but, sadly for us, he was only a mortal after all.

Lou Reed: The man, the God; March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013

© Sweet Pea