Interview with Ilaria Bonacossa, Director of Italy's Most Important Contemporary Art Fair Artissima

Italy’s most important contemporary art fair, Artissima, is on a mission to spotlight and support emerging galleries. Over the period of its existence, Artissima has taken on an experimental identity and expanded the definition of what an art fair can be. The Turin art fair will return in November 2020 with its 27th edition.

Above: Ilaria-Bonacossa

Meanwhile, Fondamenta is an ongoing project by Artissima. It is entirely digital and represents a great collective work characterized by the quality of the artworks presented – 200 – and by the in-depth curatorial research.

Ilaria Bonacossa has been the Director of Artissima since 2017. Bonacossa holds a BA in Contemporary Art History from the Università Statale di Milano and an MA in Curatorial Studies from Bard College, NY. It’s undeniable that Bonacossa has significant experience in the art field; she has worked at the Whitney Museum in New York and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Torino.

.ART spoke to Ilaria and her curatorial vision stands (and its managerial approach), her careful approach to projects, and more.

Could you tell us a bit about Artissima? What does the fair bring to the city of Torino?

Artissima is Italy’s most important contemporary art fair. Since its establishment in 1994, it has combined the presence of an international market with a focus on experimentation and research.

In addition to the fair, Artissima has a talent scouting international fair treasure: its three curated sections, headed by international curators and museum directors, devoted to emerging artists, drawings, and rediscovering the great pioneers of contemporary art.

Artissima is the main event of the Contemporary Art Week that take places in Turin in November. The fair focuses on synergy with local museums and cultural institutions, acting as a driving force for autumn events. 

Could you elaborate on the diverse collaborations you’ve organized with museums and institutions throughout the city? 

Every year, Artissima acts as a cultural activator for the Turin art scene, collaborating with public and private institutions in the city and within the region. In 2017, we collaborated on Deposito Arte Presente, a show within the fair that was installed like an art deposit, focused on Italian art and showcasing major works from public and private institutions.

Because of the pandemic emergency that has inevitably slowed down our programming, we’re now setting up collaborations within the city, and will be releasing more details in September. We are working on a programme enriched by remarkable exhibitions in the city’s public and private contemporary art museums, such as Castello di Rivoli, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Fondazione Merz and OGR.

Artissima 2019 – the preview day – Perottino Piva Bottalo

What is the story behind the venue where Artissima takes place?

Artissima takes places in Oval: an indoor arena that was built for the 2006 Winter Olympics, where it hosted speed skating events. Thanks to its large spaces, diffused natural light, numerous entrances and exits, and its capacity, this venue ensures compliance with the safety standards provided for major events in a relaxing environment.

How do first-time visitors navigate themselves at the venue?

We advise all visitors to consult our full list of useful information on our website — www.artissima.art — before arrival. We have a digital catalogue for three years now, which helps collectors and art lovers to search for galleries and artists. We will be also implementing new digital projects as a way of engaging galleries and collectors.

This year, we are planning a more compact fair, one that is more European, that will allow for a quieter visit and a more intimate experience with the artworks. 

How do you motivate first-time buyers?

We’ve been working with Treccani (the Italian national encyclopedia) on producing Alfabeto Treccani, a series of precious but affordable art by Italian artists in limited editions. This is a good way, together with the drawing section, to capture the curiosity of art lovers, pushing them to become small collectors. Also, all our galleries actively work in talent scouting as well as supporting artists, and are always open and enthusiastic about talking about the work they represent!

Who and what are you most excited about presenting at the Fair in autumn 2020?

I would say, in this strange and complicated year, we feel a great responsibility in allowing the Italian art world and our galleries to encounter their public, the collectors, and art lovers that are happy to see art in real life after so many months of lockdown. 

Artissima 2020 will be exploring the concept of FRENETIC STANDSTIL, examining its repercussions on the world of contemporary art. The theme of acceleration as opposed to inertia, and therefore of a necessary change of our paradigms, ignites the most recent debates, and is an interesting representation of what we have lived in the past months. The true response to the crisis of our complex times is a profound and thorough form of evolution, which might be conveyed most accurately by art, which has always borne witness to histories and civilizations in the past while acting as a catalyst of the most innovative visions.

We have secured special funding from Camera di Commercio di Torino, which is crucial in supporting the city’s galleries, especially in this very difficult year. We will present the ten winners of JaguArt: a road tour that was developed in collaboration with Jaguar as well as art schools all through the peninsula with the aim of discovering new artists.

Artissima 2019 – the preview day – Perottino Piva Bottalo

Can you tell us a little about your ambitions for the upcoming editions of Artissima? 

I feel this year the fair will live in a new, mixed version, growing both digitally as well as physically, thus enabling a double chance of exposure in such a developing environment. 

From your point of view, how does Artissima fit into the current network of art events in the region (Venice Biennale, etc)? 

Artissima is in its 27th year and has always focused on contemporary art, without following this recent boom in the modern art market. This has made research for quality and its presentations unique, and, in some way, different from most fairs. In Italy, we’re experiencing a moment of great importance for the art world, and the occasion for galleries to present their work and research. Historically, Artissima has been the launching platform for most international and Italian art galleries at the beginning of their development.

In 2017, you launched a new digital platform, artissima.art. What was the main objective for this platform? Do you feel that the .ART domain zone provided more than just an online address?

The main objective of the platform artissima.art was, and is, to build a digital eco-system dedicated to the fair, which offers both the professional public as well as art lovers a unique informative atmosphere on the activities of Artissima, but also keeps them up to date with the most interesting developments in the world of contemporary art.

The choice to adopt the domain .art allowed us to develop this idea in a structural and effective way, leading to a substantial growth of the digital audience of the fair which for most of the year is our audience. 

 Find out more about Artissima on: artissima.art

Daria Kravchuk
Daria Kravchuk
is a curator and art manager with an MA in Museology from Amsterdam University. Her international projects are focused on the intersection of contemporary art, architecture, urban planning and anthropology. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.