Turin, first capital and grande dame of Italy, was ever a stately hub of learning (and good food, and publishing, cinema, finance and sport, not to mention the once-thriving automobile industry). History abounds but post-industrial Turin flourishes, and contemporary art has become as much a speciality as bagna càuda, vermouth and gianduiotti.
Guided by a resident art expert, an Urban Italy Turin Contemporary Art Tour takes in the cream of museums, spaces and galleries at the leading edge of the art world. There’s an awful lot to choose from, and many are housed in fascinating ex-industrial premises.
Let’s start at the Lingotto, the district renowned for its extraordinary 1920s FIAT factory later transformed by Renzo Piano. The Pinacoteca Agnelli, intimate and unmissable, is an ad hoc, futuristic addition up on the roof of that building (where the test track used to be). Its permanent collection includes works from the 1900s; temporary exhibitions are more present-day avant-garde.
Not far from the Lingotto complex, again – and significantly – occupying a disused industrial site, is the rather wonderful Parco Arte Vivente or PAV, conceived by artist Piero Gilardi and designed by landscape architect Gianluca Cosmacini. In a sizeable park and an interactive indoor space for meetings workshops and studios, PAV explores all those pathways linking art and nature, ecology and biotechnology, artists and non-artists. The creative results include environmental installations, a mandala garden by Gilles Clément, an art project involving beekeeping, and much more of a similarly uncommon ilk.
Heading north, well worth a stop is the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, a spirited cultural institution entirely dedicated to contemporary visual arts and housed in a vast, purpose-designed structure by Claudio Silvestrin (on the site of a former car-parts factory) in Via Modane. The Foundation works internationally with art-world experts and emerging artists to present a range of educational activities as well as avant-garde exhibitions. And right across the road is a sight to behold, public-space art at the intersection of Corso Lione and Corso Mediterraneo: the famous Igloo-Fountain by Mario Merz.
Which leads us nicely on to the Fondazione Merz itself, just a few blocks away in Via Limone. Founded in 2005 primarily to house and show the priceless legacy of the Milanese exponent of Arte Povera who lived and worked in Turin, it regularly places Merz’s works side by side with those of other contemporary artists or trends in comparative exhibitions. No prizes for guessing the origins of the structure: a fascinating example of 1930s industrial architecture, once part of the Lancia factory.
For a different kind of venue, how about the cutting-edge gallery established 45 years ago by Giorgio Persano. The prescient gallerista once welcomed and encouraged the artists of the Arte Povera movement, Merz among them. Today’s gallery in the San Donato quarter offers ample spaces for sizable experiments by the likes of Lawrence Weiner, Michael Biberstein, Jannis Kounellis, Lida Abdul, Jan Dibbets and well, too many more to list. And another private gallery we simply can’t ignore, again newly and felicitously housed in extra-large, ex-industrial spaces just north of downtown Turin is Galleria Franco Noero. It showcases works by emerging artists chiefly hailing from northern Europe and the US, specializing in site-specific installations, paintings and photography.
Back to the big museums with the Museo Ettore Fico, or MEF, up in the Barriera neighbourhood and bang in the middle of a huge urban renewal plan (of yet another abandoned industrial area), attracting studios, galleries and workshops from various artistic disciplines. Its cavernous spaces host exhibitions and various events focusing on modern and contemporary art.
And last of these, the GAM, Turin’s classic, public museum of modern art in the city centre.
We can’t leave Turin and it’s art scene without mentioning a couple of seasonal events. Luci d’Artista illuminates the city’s streets and squares with spectacular light installations by eminent artists from the beginning of November to mid January every year. And Artissima is the annual contemporary art trade fair, held over three days in early November at the Oval events centre at the Lingotto.
On the other hand, if we were to leave Turin… and head west for around 20km, we’d come to the Castello di Rivoli. Clearly there’s nothing ex-industrial about this location, on a hilltop overlooking the city – though it did house a brewery for a brief period in its eventful history as medieval castle, ducal then royal residence, barracks and shelter for the homeless, before restoration in the early 1980s. Admittedly, the Castello is a little outside the range of an urban trek, but it is also unrivalled in Piedmont as a contemporary arts museum and – quite incidentally – houses Michelin-starred restaurant Combal.Zero too.
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