Over 10,000 people crammed into the corridors on the opening night of MiArt2005X, the 10th installment of the Fiera Internazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Milan, May 5-8, 2005. This year the art fair was held in the "Mechanics Pavilion," a colossal single-story structure built in 1926 and covering an area of 258,000 square feet with 52 foot-high ceilings. A superb example of industrial architecture, it provided a worthy backdrop for the modernist and postmodernist wares on display.
Although MiArt is labeled as an international fair, it is really a provincial undertaking. Of the 224 galleries, the majority of the exhibitors were from Italy, with a sprinkling from other countries, including Belgium, France, the U.K. and the U.S.A., Sweden, Switzerland and even Slovakia.
The walkway leading to the entrance was littered with contemporary sculptures of dubious quality -- a bad start. So it was a relief to encounter Saint Clair Cemin's History of the History of Ideas (1994) along the path, evoking a tangled matrix of synaptic networks, a steal at €60,000. Such marvels moved us onward and inward.
At the entrance of the fair, 87-year-old Mimmo Rotella was signing one of the artworks he made for the surrounding walls. He's looking younger than ever. At an age when most artists have retired, Rotella's vitality is astonishing.
"So what's your secret?" I asked the maestro as he was bombarded by paparazzi flashes. "It's the magic of art!" he whispered back with a smile "and I'm from Calabria!" Mimmo is looking to do a major show in London -- hint, hint, to any English dealers among our readers.
Inside, the fair was divided into three principal sections: modern, contemporary and "Anteprima," an area devoted to emerging talents. Making a re-appearance after last year's success was "Art & Co.," a special section featuring one-off works straddling the borders of art and design.
Although a large percentage of the participating galleries were contemporary, the true stars of MiArt were the Italian Modernist painters. At Tornabuoni Arte from Florence, Filippo de Pisis' expressive figurative painting Venezia Piazzeta San Marco (1945) was on offer for €220,000. "I've been selling his work for 45 years, and I haven't seen a better picture" said Tornabuoni -- a remark that didn't seem to be an exaggeration.
Galleria D'Arte Marescalchi from Bologna featured Enrico Prampolini's Guglielmo Marconi (1939), a large aeropittura-like portrait of the eponymous inventor of the radio. Andrea Spagna, the gallery's charming director, told me Marescalchi will mount a major show of another signatory of the futurist manifesto of Aerial Painting, Gerardo Dottori. The show opens at Marescalchi's seasonal gallery in Cortina later this fall.
Dottori may be one of the lesser-known members of the Futurist group, but one of his masterpieces, Aurora volando (1932), was sold by the Milan gallery Artecentro for around €150,000. Considering the painting's importance, however, this is a paltry sum. Artecentro's Flavio Lattuada is arguably Italy's most dedicated dealer of Futurist paintings, and has quietly handled many of the movement's major works since the gallery opened in 1960. "One day this Dottori will sell for €10 million, he said. He's probably right -- but the question remains, how and when?
Two other fine Italian pictures, both on the top end of financial spectrum, were on offer at auctioneer Frediano Farsetti, who is based in Corso, Italy. One work from 1928, titled Bataille (Battaglia nella foresta), was by Alberto Savinio -- brother of Giorgio di Chirico -- priced at the staggering sum of €1.4 million. Similarly, the quietude of a splendid Giorgio Morandi Natura Morta from 1920 was up for grabs at a hefty €1.6 million.
At Galleria Tega from Milan, Futurist front man Giacomo Balla's sweet smelling Espansione Perfumo (1918) gave us the vapors at €1.1 million. Lucio Fontana's deep blue Concetto Spaziole (1960) sold for €317,000.
Moving onward, the contemporary and Anteprima sections testified to the rising tide of Chinese artists, a prelude to what will surely climax at this year's Venice Biennale, where the first ever Chinese Pavilion debuts this June. (This year's hot ticket is to party for the Chinese delegation, to be held at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and hosted by Albion Gallery owner Michael Hue Williams, who represents the Chinese pavilion's curator, artist Cai Guo Qiang, and LTB's Louise MacBain.)
At Milan's Marella Arte Contemporanea, the artist Li Wei's Freedegre over 25 Story, a giant photo of a man being kicked off a high rise, done in 2004 in an edition of eight, sold for €5,500. Huang Yan's porcelain Venus, (2005) a readymade bust of Venus overlaid with a pattern reminiscent of cheap Chinese soup bowls, sold for €9,000. One of Wang Ningde's photographic portraits of slumbering subjects, Somebody's No. 19 (2005, done in an edition of ten), sold for €3,100.
At Studio Gariboldi from Milan, Zhang Dali's AK-47 (2005), a series of monotone painted portraits of young people overlaid with a repeated pattern of "AK-47" -- the model of a military rifle -- recalls the artist's shock at seeing what he thought were rescuers holding the weapons used in the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square. The works were priced at €7,700.
At the booth of MW Projects, founded in 2001 by Max Wigram in London's East End, was Pearl C. Hsiung's colorful, cartoon-surrealist painting Washi-Mon (2005), which was snapped up for €11,500. Also finding buyers ready was Faith (2003) by Photorealist painter Jason Brooks. A black-and-white memento mori, the painting is rendered with photo-real precision yet possesses a personal touch. It sold for €30,000. Brooks, a seasoned artist but newcomer to MW's stable, is definitely an artist to watch.
Opened in Geneva five years ago, Galerie Leda Fletcher specializes in Chinese contemporary artists. Hao Hong's My Things (2005) is a dense, Zen-like inventory of the artist's working tools, photographed in color from above in a way that gives a first impression of looking like a reptile's skin. The price is €1,800, in an edition of ten. Bringing new meaning to George Bataille's notion of "solar anus" is Yu Sing Chang's Praise of Skin (2004), beautiful color photographs of what seem to be flowery lampshades -- and then turn out to be body paintings done on people's rear ends! Made in an edition of eight, the work was priced at €1,200.
More nude bodies were seen at the superb Lia Rumma Gallery of Naples. Vanessa Beecroft's stunning large-scale cibachrome from her performances in Rivoli, VB50 005 DR (2002), sold for approximately €45,000 (edition of three). And keep an eye out for light boxes by newcomer Franco Scognamiglio.
At the Milan gallery Voena - Photo and Contemporary, Gilbert and George's homage to their neighborhood, the mural-sized photograph Brick Lane (2004), sold for €130,000. Voena also had on hand works by the French mixed-media artist Georges Rousse, whose confounding combination of painting and photography, Colmar (2004, edition of five), sold for €16,500.
At Claudia Gian Ferrari, Martin Maloney's Smashed, a modern-day Poussin-inspired bacchanalia, sold for €35,000. Claudio Parmiggiani's Polvrere depicts a shadowy shelf of bottles rendered in smoke on canvas. It sold for €6,000.
The "iron man award" of this year's international art fair circuit goes to Kenny Schachter of Rove Gallery, now based in London. "This is one of my last fairs for awhile," he assured me, unconvincingly. "I've let all my artists go. From now on, I'm just going to do shows that interest me."
With an eye like Schachter's, this is good news. Among the many works sold, Rove shifted two fine Vito Acconci works from 1970, 35 Approache and Learning Piece Performance, which went for €25,000 each.
Art dealer Lorcan O'Neill, on the other hand, makes selling seem effortless. Tracy Emin's vengeful And That's How I Feel (2004) flew off the wall for a whopping €110,000. And speaking of revenge, the Sicilian artist Manfredi Beninati, who I once almost came to blows with in Rome, continues to sell everything he makes. His Palermo 6, not one of his best, sold for €10,000. Leave it to O'Neil to discover one of the most talented young painters Italy has produced in years.
Speaking of great painters, no one can hold a candle to Malcolm Morley. Majestically hung at the booth of Milan's Galleria Cardi, Morley's Buzkashi (2002), priced at €180,000, is painted with such skill and economy that it brings tears to your eyes.
So who were the notables in the "Anteprima" section of emerging talents?
At Andrew Mummery, two charcoal drawings by Reece Jones had me checking my bank balance. Nocturnes possessing the elegance of J.M. Whistler, Jones' Untitled and No.1 Fan sold for €5,000 each, a pittance considering major collectors such Charles Saatchi are snapping up Jones' work as fast as he can make it.
Federico Pietrella's Senza Titolo (2005), sold for €10,000 by Studio d'Arte Cannaviello, heralds the end of the age of oil and the rise of silicon. In the spirit of Arte Povera, many of his paintings and drawings are made from "poor materials" like industrial black silicon and carbon paper.
The Zen-like diamond-cut photographs of Maggie Cardelu, like her Lala's Bullfighter, sold for €4,500 at Galleria Francesca Kaufman. A visit to the gallery convinced me this is one of the best venues in Milano for emerging talents, along with Antonio Columbo Arte Contemporanea.
Among the artists featured at the fair, one of my favorites was the group of Sicilian bad boys known as Laboratorio Saccarai. These four 24 year-old-artists from Palermo had a hit, particularly among dealers, with their installation of small paintings poking fun at the art world. Over 20 sold for €200-1,000 each. Their untitled video of van Gogh's entire oeuvre -- flashing by in less than two minutes --was a real eye-opener.
Not unlike trying to cover an art fair with over 200 galleries in less than 1,500 words!