Choice Words

New York

Masha Gessen delivering her Robert B. Silvers lecture, “The Stories of a Life,” at the New York Public Library, December 18, 2017.

“TRUMP APPEARS TO BE OBSESSED with people who embody choice,” said Masha Gessen in her New York Public Library talk on the night of December 18, pointing to his administration’s preoccupation with immigrants and transgender people, among others. Even their representation in words can seem threatening: Why else would his administration ban the Centers for Disease Control from mentioning fetuses, diversity, and the transgender community?

Gessen embraces choices, seeing them as “adventures.” Her Robert B. Silvers lecture, “The Stories of a Life,” recounted the ways in which decisions, both those offered to her and denied of her, have shaped her existence. Fittingly, a last-minute move to change her speech defined the evening. Prior to the event, Paul Holdengräber, director of LIVE from the NYPL, asked Gessen for the seven words that best describe her. Gessen wasn’t satisfied by her first response—“Outliner. Moscow, New York, Moscow, New York”—so she sent a follow-up e-mail with a second set: “Fetus, transgender, diversity, vulnerable, entitled, evidence-based, science-based.” Gessen stayed true to her original set of words by structuring her talk around the seven words that are not to appear on CDC reports.

Most of the words on the list may seem to be the opposite of choice: By now, the majority of the American population seems to understand that we’re born this way. Indeed, Gessen noted that the “rhetoric of choicelessness that the LGBT movement had been using to great effect . . . had gotten people access to such institutions as the military and marriage.” But Gessen sees empowerment in creating choices where none are typically available, such as her decision to undergo a mastectomy when she learned that she carried the gene for the cancer that killed her mother, or when she returned to the US after a decade in Russia, under threat of losing her children.

Some of the most important events in Gessen’s life have been the result of choices she did not have, while others were from discovering options that she didn’t realize existed. Upon returning to the US, Gessen found that many of her friends had transitioned, something she was surprised to find that she felt jealous of. “I, too, had always felt like a boy,” she remembered. “I had learned to be a woman, whatever that means. I’d succeeded, but still, there I was faced with the possibility that in the parallel life . . . I would have transitioned.” She began taking a low dose of testosterone. “True gender, whatever that means, didn’t have much to do with it, but choice did,” she explained. “Somehow I had missed the fact that it was there.”

A person, in Gessen’s view, “is a sequence of choices. The question is, will your next choice be conscious, and will your ability to make it be unfettered?” Under the current administration, Gessen believes that the “insistence on making a choice . . . is the only possible avenue of resistance.” Toward the end of her lecture, she imparted a lesson from Soviet dissidents: “If you have the choice between going to prison and leaving the country, you should always leave the country. There’s nothing heroic about placing yourself in a position where you will not be able to act.”

Maggie Foucault

Divine Comedy


Artists Maria Thereza Alves and Jimmie Durham wtih MADRE director Andrea Viliani.

ARRIVING IN NAPLES for the late-November opening of “Pompei@Madre: Materia Archeologica,” curated by Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, and Andrea Viliani, director of the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina (Museo MADRE), I hit the ground running and did not stop before hopping the northbound train for Rome a few days later.

The official opening was attended by a number of politicians, including Dario Franceschini, the minister of culture, who declared it the best show of the year. Juxtaposing pieces from the permanent collection and artworks by Betty Woodman, Mark Dion, Laure Prouvost, Roberto Cuoghi, and Adrián Villar Rojas, among others, with antiquities and relics from the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the exhibition beautifully conveys the palpable past that infuses contemporary Neapolitan life. Casts of the forms of a Pompeian mother and child preserved by volcanic ash at the moment of death, displayed together with Mimmo Paladino’s ghostly female figure facing a wall animated by graffiti, caused visitors to gasp and stop in their tracks. A black-and-white mosaic of dolphins and swimmers, whose subjects seem as fresh as ever, is displayed opposite a gigantic anchor by the late Jannis Kounellis, to whom the show is dedicated. Andy Warhol’s iconic Pop portrayal of an explosive Mount Vesuvius resides with incandescent Romantic paintings.

Left: Collectors Raffaella Sciarretta, Maurizio Morra Greco, and Stefano Sciarretta. Right: Collector and shoe designer Ernesto Esposito, artist Ricardo Passaporte, and dealer Francesco Annarumma.

When Viliani took the helm of the museum five years ago, it had been largely dormant in the wake of an economic crisis and left with a very small permanent collection. Since then, he has collaborated with local artists, galleries, and foundations such as Fondazione Morra Greco, Fondazione Morra, and Laura Trisorio’s Artecinema festival, as well as several foreign institutions, to mount exhibitions and grow the collection. The legendary history of the Neapolitan contemporary art scene, which began in the 1960s with the activities of Marcello and Lia Rumma, Lucio Amelio, and Pasquale Trisorio, can already be traced in the MADRE’s collection. Credited for introducing Warhol and Joseph Beuys, Amelio and Trisorio invited artists such as Kounellis, Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt, and Cy Twombly to stay on the island of Capri.

The 1968 show “Arte Povera + Azioni Povere,” organized in nearby Amalfi by Marcello Rumma and curated by Germano Celant, birthed a new movement. While there has been a near exodus of Neapolitan galleries to Milan following Rumma’s lead in opening a second space, it is really the terrific Neapolitan collectors and private foundations that fuel the prodigious local passion for contemporary art and current production. As ever, foreigners are drawn to the city’s intoxicating vitality: In January, London’s Thomas Dane Gallery will open an exhibition and residency space in the palatial Casa Ruffo, and artists Jimmie Durham and Maria Thereza Alves have moved into a former cloister, Lanificio Borbonico, where they run an artist residency and workshops as part of a collective.

Left: Fondazione Morra Greco's Alessia Volpe and Maurizio Morra Greco at Europeo di Mattozzi. Right: Fondazione Prada's Chiara Costa and Andrea Goffo with Fondazione Morra's Raffaella Morra and Claudio Catanese.

The weekend festivities kicked off with the opening of Delia Gonzalez’s “The Last Days of Pompeii” at Galleria Fonti, a show that compresses the city’s opulent decadence in a pithy geometric lexicon accompanied by the throbbing clubby electronic sound track “Vesuvius.” “Everyone here lives life to the fullest, knowing that Vesuvius could explode at any time,” said the artist, bathed in pink neon light. A short walk away at Studio Trisorio, in the posh Chiaia district, Francesco Arena was inaugurating the show “Passaggio,” where bronze sculptures reflecting various measurements of the artist’s body and movements reduces life’s essence to sculptural geometry. Everyone reconvened at Laura and Lucia Trisorio’s home atop the labyrinthine Palazzo Aselmayer. The decadent facades of Neapolitan palazzi very often conceal splendid residences and verdant courtyards. Afterward, Anna Cuomo and I made it to artist Paul Thorel’s dinner in honor of Gonzalez at his palatial quarters—the fireplace is adorned with a Giacometti bust of his mother—in time for dessert and yet another stupendous view.

The next day we dodged the crowds of Spaccanapoli and arrived at Alfonso Artiaco Gallery to see Glen Rubsamen’s Los Angeles paintings, and then crossed the courtyard to Galleria Tiziana di Caro for an exhibition of stunning 1970s geometric collages by Betty Danon. Down in Chiaia, the Annarumma gallery was showing street artist Riccardo Passaporte’s spray-painted canvases treating the myopia of consumerism through the Tesco brand. Finally we made it to Umberto di Marino for Venezuelan artist Eugenio Espinoza’s “Unlocking Something,” a series of distorted black-and-white grids that depict the spatial repression of modernist strictures and structures. From there we went to Galleria Lia Rumma for the opening of Gian Maria Tosatti’s “Damasa,” conceived as a spiritual home for writer Anna Maria Ortese and introduced by a hallway with furniture covered in ashes, the sculpture of half a loaf of bread on a table recalling the petrified Pompeian food at the MADRE. Later, Rumma hosted dinner at her residence in the legendary Palazzo Donn’Anna, jutting out over the sea on the Rocks of the Siren, where we mingled amid the Kiefers, the Kosuths, and the Kentridges. “Naples is the whole world,” said Tosatti, who just bought a place in the city.

Left: Dealer Francesca Minini and artists Delia Gonzalez and Haris Epaminonda. Right: Dealer Laura Trisorio, collector Gianfranco D'Amato, and curator and MADRE VP Laura Cherubini.

The raucous church bells on Sunday morning could have awoken the dead, but I was occupied by more mundane endeavors: a luncheon on the Vigna di San Martino––with a panoramic view of the city and the sea––hosted by the fantastic collectors Peppe Morra and Teresa Carnevale, with Raffaella Morra, Chiara Costa, and Andrea Goffo of Fondazione Prada, and artists Christoph Büchel and Ina Otzko. Hermann Nitsch has performed on the vineyard, most recently in 2010; Morra first organized one of his “actions” in 1974, when, according to the artist’s diary, the police tried to halt the performance and Morra resisted as the proceedings escalated to riotous proportions. Fondazione Morra recently restored the colossal Palazzo Ayerbo D’Aragona Cassano to showcase its collection of more than two thousand works—including pieces by John Cage, Shozo Shimamoto, Allan Kaprow, and Julian Beck, and the archives of the Living Theatre—in a planned one-hundred-year exhibition program. “Peppe is keeping the feeling of the 1960s and 1970s alive,” Cuomo said. Certainly Nitsch and Naples are a match made in heaven: The blood-splattered mock crucifixion rituals enacted by the Austrian artist correspond with the Neapolitan rite of the blood of San Gennaro, where the liquefaction of the saint’s relic augurs another year of safety under the volcano.

Left: Artist Mariangela Levita and curator Adriana Rispoli. Right: Artist Francesco Arena and collector Lucia Trisorio.

On my last day I traveled through thousands of years on foot. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii must be the most vivid archaeological site anywhere, conveying in frescos, advertisements, and graffiti found in brothels, baths, and taverns how little humanity has changed. I arrived at the Museo di Capodimonte, a stupendous collection of masterpieces ranging from the thirteenth century to the present (the most recent being John Armleder’s site-specific mural Split!) housed in a former royal palace built by the Bourbon monarch in the eighteenth century. Over pasta at a local family trattoria, museum director Sylvain Bellenger recounted the adventures of reorganizing the institution and its three-hundred-acre park since his arrival two years ago. “The Neapolitans are very creative and always have been,” Bellenger said. “An exhibition that would take three years to organize in Chicago can be done here in eight months.” He has already whipped the unruly estate into shape, creating an official football field for local kids and winning public cooperation as well as a national award of excellence for garden design.

There is nothing quiet about Naples, where divine and demonic coexist. It is a city that you either love or hate, as Naples trades the energy it takes to navigate its exuberant chaos for inspiration and belief in miracles. Take, for example, Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 film Journey to Italy, where a couple on the verge of divorce gets caught up in a religious procession: “How can they believe in that? They’re like a bunch of children,” the husband says. “Children are happy,” replies the wife. After she is nearly swept away by the rapturous crowd, they hug and declare their love for each other—an act of unremitting faith.

Left: Pompeii mother and child shown at MADRE. Right: View of Mount Vesuvius from the Vigna di San Martino.

Cathryn Drake

Social Network


Left: Curator Paolo Colombo, Pinacoteca Agnelli's President Ginevra Elkann, artist Tony Oursler and Pinacoteca Agnelli's Director Marcella Beraudo di Pralormo. (Photo: Andrea Guermani). Right: Curator Vittoria Martini.

IN TURIN DURING ARTISSIMA, one witnessed the former Italian capital’s classic, formal, symmetrical attributes pushing against its contemporary, strange, often (literally) underground side.

My tour began with the esoteric: “Paranormal,” the exhibition Tony Oursler devoted to Gustavo Rol, an “affluent middle-class art lover and painter” who was born in Turin in 1903 and spent his life delving into the occult. The show opened at Pinacoteca Agnelli with a selection from Oursler’s personal collection of paranormal ephemera (comprising fifteen thousand pieces) showcased alongside the artist’s new cycle of works, “Ex Voto,” inspired by a visit to Turin’s Chiesa della Consolata. It was a visual game contrasting Oursler’s and Rol’s belief systems, and the conversation with the American artist quickly turned from playful ghosts and ESP to pseudo-science—and Trump.

From there (Lingotto, not Trump), Artissima was a short walk away. A few minutes after the opening of the VIP preview, the fair was already going strong: Its twenty-fourth edition featured 206 galleries from thirty-two countries (with more than half non-Italian dealers); a works-on-paper section, “Disegni,” aimed at younger collectors; and high-ranking new entries including Victoria Miro, who recently opened a space in Venice, plus the usual impressive array of Italian and global curators: Chus Martínez, Andrea Viliani, Francesco Manacorda, Anna Daneri, Cloé Perrone, and Abaseh Mirvali, among others.

Left: Dealer Victoria Miro. Right: Dealer Thomas Brambilla.

The new director Ilaria Bonacossa arrived from her post as head of Museo di Villa Croce in Genova. She has expanded the exhibition spaces inside the Oval, built for the 2006 Winter Olympics, introducing “Piper: Learning at the Discoteque,” a fresh update of the talks program guided by curator Paola Nicolin, and “Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente,” a temporary warehouse with works by 128 Italian artists from 1994 to the present—an homage to Gian Enzo Sperone’s 1967–68 initiative, when the dealer was working with local artists such as Piero Gilardi and Michelangelo Pistoletto. As usual, Sperone himself was among the Turinese exhibitors—not at Artissima but at Flashback, a five-year-old fair organized by Stefania Poddighe and Ginevra Pucci whose slogan is “All art is contemporary.”

The success of satellite fairs—the hypercurated Dama at Palazzo Saluzzo Paesana, the unorthodox the Others in the former hospital Maria Adelaide, the Design fair Operae, and the new art book fair FLAT at Palazzo Cisterna—evinced Artissima’s power of attraction. Fifty-two thousand visitors visited Artissima, and at least five thousand of them enjoyed Turin’s ever-growing hotel and restaurant scene (too bad this was a measly year for truffles).

For the first time in years, there was a sense that more things were happening outside the Oval. Art travelers were challenged by an eighteen-hour-day schedule that began with artsy breakfasts: Franco Noero provided an early-morning shuttle between via Mottalciata (on show: Andrew Dadson) and Piazza Carignano (Pablo Bronstein), while at the historic Ristorante Del Cambio, pastry chef Raphael Castoriano produced Ladurée macaroons customized to individual tastes.

Left: Triennale Artistic Director Edoardo Bonaspetti and curator Antonio Grulli. Right: Artissima Director Ilaria Bonacossa.

The night of Artissima’s opening, a cluster of curators—Polly Staple from Chisenhale, Diana Baldon from Galleria Civica di Modena, Iwona Blazwick from Whitechapel—turned up for “Through the Looking Glass,” Artuner’s vernissage at Palazzo Capris, hosted by scion Eugenio Re Rebaudengo. From there it was on to institutional dinners—I was invited to Elisa Sighicelli’s studio, where many interesting women from the arts gathered: Sighicelli’s dealer, Gagosian’s Pepi Marchetti Franchi, NY Cima director Heather Ewing, Castello di Rivoli curator Marcella Beccaria, and Elena Geuna, Damien Hirst’s curator for his Palazzo Grassi show.

At 11 PM we all moved to Circolo Canottieri Esperia by the Po River, the venue of “After Artissima.” You could either stand and chill on the terrace by a smelly Pizza Fritta stall, looking at Turin reflect in the waters of the river, or get a drink card from Bonacossa herself and dance. But the night did not end there: I had initially laughed at an invitation for a 1 AM live performance with Kamasi Washington, Powell, and Wolfgang Tillmans, but when I checked the time it was already past 2: too late to join the crowds at the principal responsible for this surplus of energy, the much-awaited new Officine Grandi Riparazioni.

The former OGR, owned by Fondazione CRT and always the venue for amazing late-night parties, officially opened in October after a massive conversion—twenty thousand square meters, one hundred million euros, and three years—but they waited until this week to launch their inaugural exhibition. The visual arts program of this giant, whose scale and versatility is unprecedented in Italy, has been put in the hands of thirty-one-year-old curator Nicola Ricciardi, a former Bard College alum, in spite of many bigwigs interested in the position. Ricciardi, in charge of an amazing (and amazingly difficult) space described by some as “the cathedral of Turin’s industrial history” and compared to Venice’s Corderie dell’Arsenale, appointed three curators for the first show: Tom Eccles, Mark Rappolt, and artist Liam Gillick. Their “Like a Moth to a Flame” is named after one of the artworks on view, Cerith Wyn Evans’s palindromic neon riddle that reads, in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, a reference to creatures of the night.

Left: Artist Amalia Del Ponte. Right: Artist David Czupryn, Manuele Cerutti, Artuner's Eugenio Re Rebaudengo, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, artist Patrizio di Massimo.

Tom Eccles and I wanted to acknowledge Turin as a town of collectors, and we began browsing Turinese museums together,” Ricciardi recalled. Those museums have now lent major pieces: The “Moth” features works by fifty-four artists and is an ideal self-portrait of Turin through the collections of Museo Egizio, Palazzo Madama, MAO, GAM, and Castello di Rivoli. When OGR’s gates opened for a Friday morning preview, a giant Egyptian Tuthmoside head from 1425 BCE towered in the first room (its empty space inside the museum has been filled by piece of similar dimensions by Mark Manders). Paweł Althamers’s wax sculptures stood side by side with Chinese Han figures from the second century BCE and polychrome wood pieces from the Italian Renaissance, while Paola Pivi’s feathery bear lay a few yards from Carsten Holler’s mushrooms, Hirst’s butterflies, a Mona Hatoum hair necklace, and a 1972 Fiat 126 suspended by Simon Starling.

The musical twin to OGR’s visuals is an intense “Avant-Pop” program, curated by Club to Club founder Sergio Ricciardone, that began attracting crowds a month ago, with artists including Giorgio Moroder, Alva Noto, and the Chemical Brothers. During Art Week, it hosted a series of super-packed concerts by Kraftwerk, where Instagrammers of my generation went crazy.

“Like a Moth to a Flame” continues at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, OGR’s partner institution, which is turning twenty-five this year. There, two rooms host installations by Sanya Kantarovsky and Hito Steyerl. Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo glowed like a beacon amid the all-male management of the OGR. She was the driving force behind many of the week’s events; very little happened that didn’t in some way involve her or have her approval. Her traditional Friday dinner, hosted in the covered garden of Palazzo Re Rebaudengo (whose vineyard’s Barbaresco came in bottles with labels designed by Liam Gillick), revealed the breadth of her network, from Bonacossa to Musée National d’Art Moderne director Bernard Blistène to many of the museum directors that had convened at OGR that morning for the “Museum at the Post-Digital Turn” symposium.

Left: Collectors Mirella and Daniel Levinas at Sandretto dinner. Right: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and Centre Pompidou Director Bernard Blistène.

The following morning, I headed out of town toward Castello di Rivoli for Gilberto Zorio’s exhibition, one of the unmissable events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first Arte Povera show.

Two smaller but challenging side projects took advantage of Turin’s history: Treti Galaxie curator Matteo Mottin installed French artist Clémence de La Tour Du Pin’s first Italian solo show forty-two and a half feet underground, in the galleries and combat rooms of Fortezza del Pastiss, built by Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia and inaccessible since 1705. In Piazza Carlina, independent curator Paola Clerico used a former elettrauto (auto-electric garage) to launch a new format to match artists and collectors: a contract, compiled by an international lawyer, that binds the buyer to acquire future productions by art duo A Constructed World. Six collectors signed during the weekend, entering deals from thirty-five hundred to sixty thousand euros.

When I boarded the high-velocity train later that day, a conversation I had at the beginning of the fair came to mind. “See this people?” Peruvian collector Carlos Marsano had asked, smiling vaguely at Artissima’s crowded aisles: “We all share a disease. I call it Artzheimer. We buy, then we forget how much we’ve bought, and we buy again.”

Left: OGR curators Mark Rappolt and Tom Eccles, collector Patrizia Re Rebaudengo, OGR General Director Massimo Lapucci and Artistic Director Nicola Ricciardi. Right: Treti Galaxie's curators Matteo Mottin and Ramona Ponzini in Fortezza del Pastiss' tunnel.

A week later, with central Italy suddenly covered in snow, another Frecciarossa took me to Rome, for the MAXXI acquisition gala dinner, a very formal, very large, very Roman soirée at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts. The fundraiser is the brainchild of Fondazione MAXXI president and former minister of culture Giovanna Melandri: Five hundred donors were expected in the space designed by Zaha Hadid, and a site-specific installation by Michel Comte welcomed guests with images of a crumbling glacier projected on the facade.

The night began with drinks, and Hou Hanru gave guided visits to “Home Beirut Sounding the Neighbors,” the latest chapter of the exhibition project “Interactions Across the Mediterranean,” which has previously focused on Iran and Turkey. Curated by Hanru and Giulia Ferracci, it includes a musical performance by Tarek Atoui and Mazen Kerbaj and works by Etel Adnan, Tamara Al-Samerraei, Mounira Al Solh, Marwa Arsanios, and Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, among others.

Two hours later, we all sat in the museum’s large hall, lit by lamps designed by Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, for a Lebanese dinner conceived by pink-haired chef Cristina Bowerman, which was followed by dessert by Hussein Hadid, Zaha’s nephew. Guests included Vatican Museums director Barbara Jatta, Villa Medici’s director Muryel Mayette Hotz, and curators Achille Bonito Oliva and Germano Celant. But this being Rome, there was also strong attendance from the political, industrial, and movie worlds, including Academy Award winners Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo.

Melandri, after having endured two hours of red-carpet step-and-repeats, stood up to speak about the “soft power of cultural diplomacy,” and thanked guests for going black tie once a year and for the 1,400,000 euro in donations. In a typical Italian case of an expensive museum with no money for collections, a sum this big is not just soothing, it is also unheard of in this country, where public museums have historically relied on government funding and have, in most cases, only recently launched membership programs following the American example (minus the tax deductibility, of course). “We are doing our best,” said Melandri, noting that 42 percent of the museum’s budget is self-funded, so private and public resources must be developed together.

Last year, some of the money raised went to purchase Shahzia Sikander’s digital animation The Last Post and Tomas Saraceno’s video Poetic Cosmos of the Breath. Saraceno is now the central figure of MAXXI’s collaboration with Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare and Agenzia Spaziale Italiana: “Gravity,” an exhibition opening in early December devoted to recent developments in studies on gravitational waves, belongs to a new wave of museum shows aimed at bridging humanist and scientific discourses.

Pia Capelli

Left: Curator Carolina Lio and dealer Christian Mooney. Right: Dealer Gian Enzo Sperone with Flashback Curators Stefania Poddighe and Ginevra Pucci.