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Postcard from Turin

From a show of 25 young Italian artists for the Sandretto Re Raubedengo Young Curators’ Residency Programme to Carlo Mollino’s highly secretive apartment

Last month I was in Turin for the opening of ‘Persona in Meno’ (Person in Less), a group show of more than 25 young Italian artists curated by the three recipients of the Sandretto Re Raubedengo Young Curators’ Residency Programme: Angelique Campens, Erica Cooke and Chris Fitzpatrick. The culmination of an intensive three months of studios visits with the coordinator of the residency, Stefano Collicelli Cagol, the show was housed in the Palazzo Re Rebaudengo in the picturesque village of Guarene d’Alba set in the rolling Piedmonte countryside to the south-east of Turin. It runs alongside ‘21×21 – 21 Artists for the 21st Century’ – a group show with a similar number of youngish artists at the very dissimilar site of the Fondazione Re Rebaudengo (its vast, airy warehouse space, Rudolf Stingel-designed café and sculpture park are a far cry from the historic, musty grandeur of the Palazzo, with its maze of interconnecting rooms). Like the Francesco Bonami-curated ‘21×21’, which ostensibly presents works that move between the conceptual book-ends of Italian Modernism, tradition and innovation, the work in ‘Persona in Meno’ oscillated, with varyingly degrees of success, between notions of portraiture and self-presentation.

Andrea Contin, L'entree des gladiateurs, 2004, film still. Courtesy: the artist

Two films from 2004, Andrea Contin’s L’entreé des gladiateurs (a video of the artist made up as a clown smoking a spliff in astonishingly quick time, pleasure quickly turning to pain) and Rä di Martino’s Cancan! (a video of a man dressed in a dowdy pink dress and badly applied make-up dancing wildly to Offenbach in a cramped kitchen), presented slapstick variations on portraiture as self-presentation – historic notions of portraiture as static, representative or iconic replaced with movement, masquerade and bathos.

 A largely silent film by Nicola Nunziata, Tommy Gun (2010), shown opposite Di Martino’s film, showed a hokey, macho rite of passage filmed in the rough suburbs of Naples. A young boy goaded on by obviously proud older friends and relatives displays his prowess with a rifle then mugs for the camera while his older friends have a conversation with the filmmaker, clearly about the boy. The lack of sound is both frustrating and rewarding, bringing out the physical interactions of the group, forcing you to guess at what’s being said about the young protagonist and wondering what the silent boy is thinking of his comrades’ remarks.

 From slapstick and bathos to investigations into process, interpretation and presentation in the form of yet another work to be added to the increasingly populated canon of videoed contemporary dance and a cheeky, charming piss-take of a great artist. This comprised a large projection of a video by Meris Angioletti documenting masked dancers moving in and out of shot through a pitch black space. Based on the process of a Gianni Golfera who has memorized pi to 200 decimal places (by assigning mental images to each number and who then had taught the dancers these images who then performed them), the film is about as drily self-aware as that process sounds. I’d guess I wasn’t alone in not staying to see the dancers’ interpretation of the image of the 200th decimal place.

 On a ledge next to a narrow staircase leading down to the basement, a huge cat looked out from a stack of sheets of A1 paper containing the facetiously serious correspondence between Frederico Del Vecchio and the Cryonic Institute in Michigan, regarding the possibility of having the artist’s cat cryogenically frozen (Alba Will Live Forever, 2009). Borrowing Félix Gonzales-Torres’ positioning and presentation of his sculptural works in unlikely spaces and in take-away stacks, the work was irreverent without being flip, strangely sad without falling into sentimentality.

 Elsewhere, Marinella Senatore’s well-judged installation, ROUTE # 2 (2010), consisting of a plywood screen and light installation evoking the dimensions of an American motel room – the shadow cast from a spotlight on a suspended piece of paper reflecting on the opposite wall the dimensions of the screen – had a gentle poise and warmth that offered far more than what seemed at first just another take on cool post-minimalism.

 Overall, with a few slight missteps, ‘Persona in Meno’ presented work that resonated well with both the tricky dimensions of the Palazzo, with its multi-levelled mezzanines, steps and variably sized rooms – and with the show’s paradoxical (yet paradoxically inclusive) promise of ‘portraiture without portraiture’. Travelling to the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa and running from 17 September – 18 October, it will be interesting to see how the new space is negotiated by the curators and how the strongest work from the Palazzo Re Rebaudengo fares in the new venue.

Museo Casa Mollino, 2010. Courtesy: Museo Casa Mollino, Turin

Museo Casa Mollino, 2010. Courtesy: Museo Casa Mollino, Turin

Just before my flight out of Turin and on the back of a number of recommendations, I arranged a tour of the incredible Museo Casa Mollino. A secret project of the prolific Modernist architect and designer Carlo Mollino, the house is in the advanced stages of being painstakingly restored by the father-and-son duo, Fulvio and Napoleone Ferrari, based on an extremely detailed plan of the first floor apartment overlooking a rushing weir by the Ponte Umberto I bridge. Incredibly knowledgeable about the life, work and theology of Mollino, Messrs Ferrari – who are curating a show of Mollino’s enamel objects at the Kuturehuset, Stockholm, that runs until October – explained some of the fantastically kitsch objects and designs of the apartment as well as the obsessively symbolic layout and design of what in effect was a self-made mausoleum. To describe the highly secretive apartment would be to go against the intentions of Mollino (and would require thousands of words), but if there is ever a long overdue book published about the place then ‘Portraiture without Portraiture’ might be a fitting title.

Paul Teasdale is editor of frieze.com. He is based in London.

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