Antonia Alampi: You once defined the museum as a sort of playground – or used that as a metaphor to describe working with it. The Kunsthalle you direct in Zurich, in addition to a playground, has also temporarily become a church, a theater, and now a university, with the show that just opened in collaboration with the University of Zurich. I wonder what metaphor you would use instead to define today’s art fairs in general, and what you think Artissima´s form is in particular?
Daniel Baumann: I initiated a series of “Kunsthalle-as-something-else” to question the function of this particular institution and to play with its identity. A Kunsthalle is one among a plethora of platforms: all in all there are thousands of biennials, art fairs, galleries, museums, websites et cetera who organize thousands of shows with contemporary art. I just read that in China alone there are about four-thousand exhibitions annually. Not only this, but everybody is doing everything as gallerists turn into museum directors, art critics work as a gallerists, museum directors join auction houses, art consultants run off-spaces, biennials sell art and art fairs look like biennials. So there is an enormous fluidity and I wonder if this is the new normal or a moment of transition.
A bit surprisingly, the multiplication has brought us more uniformity, not diversity: everything is formatted to fit the taste and knowledge of an international audience and market. The same is true for art fairs. Therefore in the past few years, I’ve started to visit regional art fairs where I discover art I didn’t know about. I think it was this mix of “international” and “regional” that made Artissima appealing to me. Also sections like Present Future and Back to the Future, which manage to mix the different “worlds” and do it in intriguing ways. Artissima is also intimate: you have time to stroll, sit down, talk and meet. Also the way somebody like Sarah Cosulich welcomed and involved curators, and introduced new formats like these lively tours for a general public led by critics and curators. And then there is the city of Turin, its museums, the great restaurants. So consciously or not, Artissima plays out, with charm and intelligence, the card of multiple, yet specific experiences. Experience economy is big in retail now, so you could call an art fair a high-end flea market or a shopping mall for art lovers. In Asia, many shopping malls include museums, and why not? I think that art fairs should embrace their destiny wholeheartedly because soon the global mega-galleries will become their own artfairs.
AA: I totally agree. And yes, I still believe that there are a few art worlds that exist in the same places but don´t necessarily meet each other, and have completely different audiences and different markets (or no markets) despite the overwhelming homogeneity brought about by global capital. So if a fair manages to achieve that, it’s certainly a great result. You have been involved in the jury of the Present Future Prize in 2016, a section that encourages and supports the work of a younger generation of artists while also inviting curators from different regions of the world to select galleries who may be less known in Italy and generally in the Western European context. Can you talk about your experience at the fair as a jury member? Was it the first time you went to Artissima? Are you a regular visitor? Which artists could you say you really discovered at the fair, if any? Is going to fairs programmatically part of your curatorial research? And if yes, which fairs are not to be missed for you?
DB: The great thing about being part of a jury is that you have to look very closely in order to influence the decisions. You learn from your colleagues and how they argue or say things you don’t agree with, so you meet interesting, nice, and sometimes annoying people. As far as I can remember I went to Turin in 2015 for the first time, then again in 2016 and 2017 – all good memories. I was especially fond of the Back to the Future section where I discovered the work of, among others, Jef Geys, Lars Fredrikson, Imre Bak, Paulo Bruscky, and Chu Enoki. So yes, I go to art fairs, from Art Basel to Frieze, Fiac, Nada, Art Cologne, Miart in Milan, Artissima, Paris Internationale, and Liste in Basel. Since I am neither a collector nor much driven by the question of who is going to be the big star of tomorrow, I feel sometimes out of sync, but there is some pleasure to that. What I particularly appreciate are one-person presentations where I can learn about an artist’s work. The other thing I love is to encounter a great work of high or obscure quality, a work that challenges the eye. When I first went to Art Basel in the 1980s I was surprised that one could buy a Picasso or a Kirchner. I thought that these things only hang in museums. So it had an effect of normalization and, at the same time, it made art even more exclusive.
AA: Right. In a way it’s a reminder that art is a commodity, but also that, beautifully and ultimately, it is also distributed in a world that exists beyond the realm of art institutions, in intimate spaces. Last short question: If you were to curate a section in a fair, what would it be?
DB: It would be the section of artists’ books, like Artissimia actually has. It would have to include Printed Matter, Daniel Buchholz, Christoph Schifferli from Archiv in Zurich, Brendan Dugan from Karma in New York, friends who collect books, graphic designers, and many others. Also young publishing initiatives. I would spend my day sitting there and talking to them, complaining about their prices, the weather, and art fairs, celebrating new discoveries, and smoking an occasional cigarette.