The walls and frescoed ceilings of the former apartments of the Dukes of Savoy in Castello di Rivoli have many stories to tell. On the site of an ancient medieval fortress, on a hill just outside of Turin, the castle was expanded in a late-baroque flourish in the early 18th century by Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, King of Sardinia. For a sorry couple of years at the end of his life, Victor Amadeus was held prisoner there – with his morgantic wife, a former mistress – by his own son. A number of these rooms currently house Paloma Varga Weisz’s ‘Root of a Dream’, one of several exhibitions that opened to coincide with Artissima art fair in November, and in which history and storytelling commingle, as in the Italian word for both: storia.
Varga Weisz’s first institutional solo exhibition in Italy has been thoughtfully and sparely installed by the curator, Marianna Vecellio, working with the artist. Stepping into each room feels as though you are intruding upon the characters of the artist’s dark, fairytale bestiary worked in carved wood and ceramic, so at home do they seem among the Castello’s ghosts of dynastic drama, love and betrayal. And home – particularly in relation to Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny, or unhomely – is key here. The show opens with Magazin (Warehouse, 2012), which looks like an ominously over-sized and unadorned cuckoo clock, whose side panels extend to cover the length of the wall, as well as a dusty open-sided dolls’ house, with yellowing, stained lace curtains (House, [37.71], 2012). Screening in the same room on a small monitor is what looks to be a home video from the 1980s (Two Artists, 1986): a touching piece in which a young, beautiful Varga Weisz and her father, the artist Feri Varga, dance together and pose for the camera in grimacing carnival masks.
The exhibition’s circular, Hansel-and-Gretel-like logic of fathers, woodcutters and getting lost in enchanted forests concludes with Untitled (A Glorious Man) (2008/15), a pale wax figure with an enormous, penis-shaped proboscis that nearly touches the table in front of him. Father or figment, he is a reminder of the sexual connotations of the word ‘root’ and the Oedipal desires that surface in dreams.
The labyrinths of the unconscious recur at Galleria Norma Mangione in small-scale works on board by Bernd Ribbeck. Though directly referencing the impossible, M.C. Escher-like levels of the game app Monument Valley (2014), his stylized, axonometric architectures also recall the oneiric, endless spaces of Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio and later surrealists. Created by building layers of acrylic paint and dense drifts of biro lines, the works’ tricky play of flatness and depth is a reminder of the fallibility of perception.
In the centre of town, in an elegantly crumbling second-floor apartment overlooking the Palazzo Carignano – built in the same period as the Castello, and commandeered as a temporary outpost of Galleria Franco Noero for the duration of Artissima – Darren Bader conjured the sounds of all nine Beethoven symphonies, recorded by different orchestras and each playing in a different room. Proposta per le 9 Sinfonie (Proposal for Nine Symphonies, 2015) is billed as a unrealized project, which Bader is searching for someone to finance. The realized version would involve nine orchestras playing live in nine different rooms. As so often with Bader, with such a Quixotic undertaking you sense he’s deadpanning – not that this detracted from the unadulterated pleasure of standing outside in the sun-bathed Piazza Carignano (built, incidentally, for Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, older second cousin of Victor Amadeus, who was both deaf and mute) listening to Beethoven, brilliant in nine ways simultaneously.
At Guido Costa Projects, Paul Etienne Lincoln’s The Glover’s Repository (2007–15) is a large, illuminated vitrine filled with 24 slowly rotating gloves. These represent historical figures famous for a great deception, either as perpetrators or victims. Through a wondrous clockwork mechanism, continually tweaked by the artist in his role as mad inventor on opening night, each glove rotates one full circle for every year of the character’s life (like the orbiting planets in an orrery).
In English idiom, hands are typically proof of authenticity, as in ‘to see first hand’, while the glove implies duplicity: the corrupt overtones of being ‘hand in glove’ with someone, and ‘the velvet glove that conceals the iron fist’.
The tales of each character are detailed on information cards that line the walls: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Mata Hari, General Tom Thumb, La Castaglione. (The latter pleaded the case for Italian unity, orchestrated in Turin, to her lover Napoleon III.) I noted a preponderance of belle époque courtesans and demi-mondains. Such choices reflect the burlesque, almost steampunk sensibility that inflects Lincoln’s wider oeuvre although, less generously, they also affirm an age-old stereotype of the femme fatale and female betrayal through seduction.
In a venue built for Piedmontese industrial royalty, the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli – a futuristic Renzo-Piano-designed glass box on top of the family’s former Fiat factory in Lingotto – hosts a magical Wunderkammer-like presentation. Working with curator Paolo Colombo, Ed Ruscha – an artist whose career is tinged with the smell of gasoline – has explored some of Turin’s more esoteric institutions, including the Fruit Museum, the Museum of Criminal Anthropology and the Agriculture Academy; in ‘Mixmaster’ their finds are displayed alongside a select survey of Ruscha’s own work, much of it from his personal collection. Grouping the pieces under straightforward headings such as ‘Cars’, ‘Anatomy’ and ‘Cinema’, the show finds unexpected resonances between such curious pairings as a preserved dissected hand from the mid-19th century and Ruscha’s photograph Self-Portrait of my Forearm (2014), or the contour portraits that the artist has been making since the 1970s and early shadow-theatre puppets from the National Cinema Museum.
Writing critically of the artist-curated show format in an article earlier this year, Claire Bishop dismissed it as producing ‘an ambience that you just kind of feel rather than understand’; here, looking from Ruscha’s painted Skier (1987) to archival photographs of architect, designer (and sometime-ski instructor) Carlo Mollino and friends on the slopes, and beyond to the snow-tipped Alps, it seemed to me that feeling is its own way of understanding.
First published in Issue 177