Process Drives Italy’s Gallery Game
By Artsy Editors
Oct 27, 2014 4:19 pm

Italy is a country with a rich cultural history up to and including the modern and contemporary period. While the Venice Biennale ensures it retains a position in the art world’s biennial calendar, the Artissima fair—held annually in Turin each November—also places it in the international fair scene. Italy’s connection to the global gallery scene is further strengthened by its artists’ tendency to live and work abroad, returning regularly to show at galleries in their native land. At present, the closeness between Italy and the international scene can be seen in a shift in focus from minimalism and irony—both of form and message—to a more austere, process-based aesthetic.

Rome is home to several galleries with a broad international outlook, including Federica Schiavo Gallery, Frutta Gallery, Galleria Lorcan O’Neill, Giacomo Guidi Arte Contemporanea, MONITOR, T293 and The Gallery Apart—all participating in major fairs abroad, and some of which have multiple outposts. Of those galleries, five have moved location within the last two years, signaling a desire to take on bigger spaces while paying lower rent. Both C02 and Furini Arte Contemporanea moved outside Rome, to Turin and Arezzo, while Gallery S.A.L.E.S opens its new space in November, moving towards Termini Station from the Coliseum area. However, with more galleries set to leave Rome’s center in 2015, only Lorcan O’Neill has gone against this prevailing trend of moving further from the city’s historical center, opening an impressive new gallery space in the 17th-century Palazzo Santacroce at the heart of the city. This movement is reflective of a wider Italian pragmatism, which has allowed Rome’s galleries to survive the financial crisis. 

The autumn season sees strong shows, from T293’s solo show by Martin Soto Climent, “Luster Butterfly,” to MONITOR’s group painting show “Un’Idea di Pittura I,” running parallel to “Un’Idea di Pittura II” in the gallery’s New York space, Monitor Studio. MONITOR’s Rome-based show includes works from, amongst others, Ian Tweedy, Thomas Braida and Walter Smith, in keeping with the early signs of a return to a commitment to painterly processes within the art world. The stark narrative works by Braida are emblematic of a renewed interest in austere expressionism over the irony that has recently prevailed within contemporary art.

The Gallery Apart recently opened “Solitary Shelters,” a solo show by Luana Perilli. This exhibition sees the Rome-based artist diverge into craft-based pottery techniques, while continuing an ongoing investigation into both social and spiritual behavioral patterns. Her new works—which take inspiration from postwar German ceramics—evoke the organic forms of the hive and nest, referencing her ongoing interest in the bee as a symbol of both the collective and the solitary.

Meanwhile, the relocation of Furini Arte Contemporanea from Rome to Arezzo, in Tuscany—where it now occupies a former chapel, Chiesa della Madonna del Duomo—has rejuvenated the gallery, which, until late 2013, occupied a space on Rome’s Via Giulia, a stone’s throw from the Tiber. Two strong group shows last spring and summer—“La XIII Luna” and “Enchanted: The Poetics of Wonder,”curated by Rita Selvaggio and Ilaria Gianni, respectively—were followed by a solo show of work from Ben Barretto, entitled “Physical Therapy,” closing this December. It is one in a series of four solo shows from Barretto this year, and includes works produced via a kind of “meta-painting,” whereby nothing but the materials comprising painting itself are used in the creative process. The artist puts a given amount of oil paint on a canvas and then presses it against another, before using the corner of one canvas to draw in the resulting even surface, scraping away paint to create works that are part Color Field painting, part expressionist. This again signals an attention to process emerging as a major concern for Italy’s international galleries. Visitors to Artissima this year can expect to see a similar trend emerging in a country with a strong tradition of intensely process-based artistic production.

Mike Watson

Check back for Artsy’s fair preview and coverage of Artissima, launching Thursday, October 30th.