Anna Daneri: The twenty-fifth edition of Artissima will open its doors in Turin on November 2. A special edition, a major achievement for a fair first held in 1994. What better occasion than its twenty-fifth anniversary to retrace its history together with its “inventor,” Roberto Casiraghi. Can you tell us how the idea for Artissima came about?
Roberto Casiraghi: I’ve worked in the world of fairs ever since the end of the 1970s, and in 1981 I began to collaborate with Giorgio Mondadori on new publishing initiatives and art catalogues; this brought me into contact with galleries, artists and antiquarians, and to consolidate my experience of fairs with the Internazionali di Antiquariato in Naples at the end of the 1980s. In the meantime, an excellent workgroup had come together around Paola Rampini and myself, and we thought it would be possible to find a space for a new art fair in Italy; we chose Turin instead of Milan by virtue of its history of artistic movements, collecting and galleries, thus making it the best place in which to undertake this adventure.
AD: Artissima was the first Italian fair to open up to foreign galleries. On looking through the various editions, the figures speak for themselves: from 123 galleries from seven counties in the first edition, to 172 from nineteen countries for the 2006 edition, and a total today of 1,391 galleries from sixty-three countries. What were the reasons behind your international appeal? What models did you draw on?
RC: Over the years, Artissima has created its own unique format in the panorama of international fairs: dedicated exclusively to the contemporary sphere, it brings together emerging galleries alongside more established galleries, paying great attention to quality. All this aroused the interest of exhibitors, also from around the world, and as a consequence there was a parallel interest from collectors and members of the art world. One further consideration to make is that the internationality of the market and its protagonists is more linked to the contemporary than to the modern: with some exceptions, the latter draws more of a national crowd.
AD: Turin as a host for contemporary art, with an institutional network unequalled in Italy. How did you relate to the city?
RC: In 1994 there was no such network as we know it today; only the Castello di Rivoli, the only contemporary art museum in Italy, was gaining notoriety and had been operating for around a decade. Also in that period, the reopening of the GAM, after many years of closure for rebuilding works, the founding of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and then later in 2005 of the Fondazione Merz created a favorable climate for the birth and development of a series of institutions that made Turin the capital of contemporary art in Italy. The institutional network that exists today, albeit with great structural difficulties and ones of vision, is also the upshot of that ferment, and one of Artissima’s merits was to place the city at that time at the heart of a wide-ranging virtuous circle which managed to bring in all the main players (galleries, museum, foundations, artists, critics, curators, administrators and information), making them protagonists at the same time. Artissima was the driving force behind that ferment.
AD: Artissima has become synonymous with experimentation and attention to emerging artists. When did you decide to aim exclusively at the contemporary?
RC: First of all, Artissima’s interlocutors, like those of all the art fairs, are the galleries: it is held for them. And so it is the kind of work carried out by the galleries that goes on to characterise the contents. For thirteen years, Artissima never even spoke to the artists but only to the gallerists; our research, the indications that we would give and receive from the committees were always along the lines of seeking out qualitatively significant galleries for their market of reference. For the public of Artissima, the gallery represented a guarantee for the standing of the artists. Communicating directly with artists by a fair is not merely a formal issue but also a substantial one for the correct distinction of roles, clarity in relationships, relations with the collectors and the general public. Artissima was founded as a classic fair—today it might be called “generalist”—bringing together modern and contemporary art, and after a number of years—towards the end of the century—in order to stand out on the national and above all international panorama, we decided to focus exclusively to the contemporary sphere because, as I said before, contemporary art was represented by a more international class of galleries.
The choice we made at the time was to create a new vision of the market, a strongly international one, with galleries that dealt exclusively with high quality contemporary art, and—first among the major fairs—bringing in many up-and-coming galleries alongside others that were more prestigious and longer-standing.
AD: Right from the start, you involved curators in the scientific committee and in the implementation of special projects. One of these, Present Future, became a section which is still held to this day. Just how important was teamwork in helping the fair to grow?
RC: The involvement of curators came about largely in 2000 with the presentation of two new sections that are still “holding out”: Present Future, aimed at presenting artistic projects by a single artist, and which gained the support of Illy, and New Entries, created for galleries that had been on the scene for less than five years and which were taking part in Artissima for the first time.
Over time, various figures have changed among the members of the committees, made up of gallerists, collectors and curators, also with a view to reflecting the change in aims of Artissima, and keep it constantly up to date from year to year, as well as ever more present on the international panorama. The in-house workgroup also deserves much of the merit for Artissima’s success, and in some key positions there are still the same people who first started out with us; people who have won the respect and the appreciation of the galleries by virtue of their professionalism, going to every region and every part of the world in search of novelties in order to enhance the fair ever further.
AD: Time is on our side… Ilaria Bonacossa decided to dedicate the next edition of the fair to time, in order to celebrate its history, also with an eye to the future, with new initiatives like the section Sound. What’s your wish for Artissima’s twenty-fifth birthday?
RC: Twenty-five years of life is a major achievement in the world of contemporary art, which is often driven by ephemeral sensations; and the 25-year mark is even more precious because it is held in Italy and in Turin, where the most widely practiced arts are those of defeat, envy and complaining. Of course, a lot of it is about how much you want to risk in first person, like in the first thirteen editions of Artissima, instead of being an “employee,” but over the last few years, I have noticed a renewed spirit of participation. I believe Ilaria has very clear ideas about the development of the fair, that she thinks about the future of the project and the product, that she has a lot of foresight, not only focusing on the present. If she has the peace of mind that the political situation needs to provide and she manages to interface with the initiatives that contribute to the success of the contemporary art week, respecting their specific characteristics and prerogatives, she will have all the success she deserves. She and Artissima.