Cultural Crossroads

The 26th Edition of Turin’s ‘Artissima’

By Roxane Zand
The 26th Edition of Turin’s ‘Artissima’ brought together 1048 artists from around the world, 208 galleries from 43 countries, 6 prizes, and 7 sections. If these numbers have not impressed you, I can confirm that the Middle Eastern presence this year was impressive, marking the contemporary fair with its 62 percent of foreign exhibitors as one of the most international in Europe.

T he Hub Middle East, aiming to offer an overview of galleries, institutions and artists active in that region made a central contribution - featuring 13 Middle Eastern galleries and a handful of European ones that show regional artists. Star consultants Sam Bardaouil and Till Felrath had worked their usual magic to curate a programme of talks that evaluated the Middle Eastern art scene and encouraged dialogue with local and European authorities. "Artissima has a unique position within the landscape of art fairs of contemporary art. The level of concentration of emerging artistic practices that are non-commercially oriented is outstanding making it a great platform for discovery and engagement!

Landscape from Mourning Series by Majid Biglari at Tehran’s Mohsen Gallery

We are also excited to have been able to contribute to this year’s program through Hub Middle East which is shedding light on the heterogenous nature of artistic institutions and practices in the region," says Sam. Zeina Arida from Beirut’s Sursock Museum, Reem Fadda from Abu Dhabi, Dawn Ross from Dubai’s Jameel Centre all represented major regional institutions, while Khulood Al Atiyat (Commissioner of the UAE Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale) and artist Hamdi Attia discussed Arab presence in Venice. Additionally, Iranian artist Setareh Shahbazi guided the “Eyes Come Back” closed-door workshop for artists that featured a hands-on, cross-disciplinary experience oriented towards a practical approach in which participants are engaged in a thematic design of fictional worlds. And Shadi Harouni, another Iranian artist based in NY, was invited to join a panel about censorship, part of the central theme of this year's fair edition.

Letters to the Reader by Walid Raad at Sfeir Semler Gallery of Beirut

Sfeir-Semler from Beirut, a leader in showing top quality Arab artists, had highlighted Walid Raad whose works (the Letters series) were well-priced and captivating. Lawrence Abu Hamdan equally important, was another of their artists that was receiving attention. Zilberman Gallery from Istanbul had chosen to show a conceptual German artist whose work is clearly destined for an institution, while Turkish-owned Pi Artworks from London presented another conceptual work, a bridge of found ‘London’ bricks (Troubled Waters) that referred to the challenges of our times. Several galleries were also present from Tehran: well-known Ab-Anbar - frequently praised by the Iranian art community for their choices - was showing well-priced works by Timo Nasseri (both from the familiar, dazzling mirror-works, and also newer production), while Dastan’s Basement, another leader on the Tehran art scene and founder of the local Tir Art Fair, had a solo show of sublime works by Meghdad Lorpour. Seascapes (entitled Daryabar, referring to the shore) pulled the viewer into its wistful contemplative perspective. With a finesse more associated with Far Eastern artists, Lorpour communicates on many levels. Attractively priced, Hematian is likely to see some brisk trade for these works. At the last count, these galleries expressed satisfaction with their presence at the fair and hopes remain high for the success of these Middle Eastern artists.

Work from the Daryabar series by Iranian artist Meghdad Lorpour at Dastan’s Basement

At a time of challenging regional politics with sanctions in Iran and unrest in Lebanon, it is heartening to see the valiant efforts of gallerists to bring their artists and promote their own art and culture on the international platform.

Ruth Patir at Artissima

So, what makes Artissima special in a world saturated by art fairs? In the words of director Ilaria Bonacossa, “the fair stands out for the quality of exhibits, the presence of curators and museum directors, and the ability to attract corporate and institutional partners. The precise identity, consistent history and focus on research have enabled Artissima to achieve remarkable international prestige, entering the ranks of the world’s top ten art fairs.”

Fortune Teller by Ghazaleh Avarzamani shown by Ab Anbar Gallery from Tehran

It would be hard to disagree with this appraisal, as an attendance of over 50,000 visitors means the kind of exposure for international gallerists hard to find in any other forum. For regional artists to vie with the likes of Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere or Man Ray whose shows were central attractions at Artissima, is itself an achievement and a statement of the growing importance of artistic diversity. Not so long ago, it would have been hard to spot a Middle Eastern artist at Basel. And speaking of pluralism and diversity, one of my favourite picks at Artissima this year was without doubt the work of prize-winner Arthur Jafa whose poignant, passionate film installation made up of film clips showing the violence, sexual energy, music and sporting lives of his own community - a veritable emotional punch from the archives of African-American history - highlighted the often-unchanging realities of life in today’s America.

A refreshing, often eye-opening fair, Artissima ran from Oct 31 - Nov 3, and will no doubt offer yet another exciting edition next year.

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