Crescendo. Overview on the 2023 edition of MIART.

Antonio Caruso

curator and contemporary art exhibition designer

Review Apr 27, 2023
Photo by miart

From the 14th to the 16th of April - with a preview on Thursday the 13th - the 27th edition of the Milan International Modern and Contemporary Art Fair, also known as miart, took place. The fair is organised by Fiera Milano, and was directed for the third year running by the curator and contemporary art critic Nicola Ricciardi, who entitled it “Crescendo”. 

If one were to use three words to describe “Crescendo”, these would be consistent, with respect to Ricciardi’s curatorial work over the last two years; functional to the current market contingencies, according to new trends and a serious internationalisation programme; and sensitive to today’s issues that characterise not only the market, but also the public and social perception of the fair and the art market in general. 

A consistent edition

Overall, the fair was consistent with Ricciardi’s programme from previous editions, which well interpreted the complex circumstances under which the event takes place. “Crescendo” indicates the gradual increase in the intensity of sound in a music composition, referring to the growth of the fair itself.

Crescendo means growing in Italian - which hosted 169 galleries from 27 countries this year. A considerable increase, considering that the previous editions curated by Ricciardi in 2022 and 2021 respectively counted 150 galleries from 21 countries and 142 galleries from 19 countries.

And it is precisely from these two editions that “Crescendo” takes its cue. From the 2021 edition, entitled “Dismantling the Silence” - from the poem by Charles Simić - in reaction to the silent interruption caused by the pandemic, to the rebirth of “Primo Movimento” in 2022, meaning first movement in Italian, a new symphony, the musical theme has remained central through Ricciardi’s curatorship.

The crescendo of miart was consistent with market trends as well. The fair direction management confirmed the elimination of the Classic and Contemporary sections in favour of a single main section, Established, which this year hosted 133 galleries. The aim was to focus on the galleries and not on the division between the arts, in line with other major fairs in Italy such as Artissima in Turin and Arte Fiera in Bologna. The other two sections included Emergent, curated by Attilia Fattori Franchini, dedicated to the research of 26 emerging galleries which in some cases shared exhibition projects and stands; and Decades, curated by Alberto Salvadori, with a project divided into 10 galleries with as many monographic exhibitions between the 1910s and the 2010s, where each selected gallery was obliged to bring works relating to a specific decade.

A functional edition

Ricciardi has strengthened the agenda inaugurated by miart’s previous artistic director Vincenzo De Bellis - currently Art Basel’s director of fairs and exhibition platforms - by focusing on the internationalisation of the show.

This year counted almost 40% foreign or foreign-based exhibitors, almost doubling the number of the previous year, thus involving galleries with an international reach.

The aim was to arouse the interest of insiders and professionals - many of whom were selected for the juries of this edition’s awards - but above all of collectors on a global scale. 

This is due to the fact that while the gallery market seems to have generally grown during 2022 despite the global crisis, as recorded by the famous The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, it is also true that this growth has been driven almost exclusively by the top-end market - over USD 10 million - while the mid-range has even seen a decrease in sales in certain cases, due to inflation and a tense climate among the buyers in this segment. The Italian art market remains mainly characterised by mid-range transactions, with a turnover of 1.46 billion in pre-pandemic 2019, of which transactions above 10 million accounted for approximately 1%. However, the Italian market is heavily penalised by poor competition with the tax systems of other European countries, mainly the UK and France; by the issues of free circulation of artworks, among the most restrictive in the world; and by the excessive bureaucracy. Despite these difficulties, sales to foreigners accounted for approximately one quarter of the total art market in Italy, which for the fair sector followed the favourable trend that characterised the global 2022 and that the appointment of miart 2023 proved - from the report “ARTE, the value of the industry in Italy”, carried out by Nomisma study for Gruppo Apollo, with the collaboration of Intesa San Paolo.

The Fair 

True to expectation, painting proved to be a major player, as it often is when the market needs to be revitalised, in part because of its proven value as a safe haven asset. Moreover, the great masters of the Italian 1900s, which are the basis of the importance of the Italian art market, imposed themselves as the mainstay of the fair. This was seen in the substantial presence of Fontana, De Chirico, Vedova, Morandi, Burri, Boetti, but also Paladino, Severini, Schifano, Accardi, and so on. In particular, Carla Accardi (1924 - 2014) was one of the most persistent presences among the stands. After a series of exhibitions dedicated to her in 2017 / 2018 / 2019 in Rome (Galleria Mucciaccia), Brescia and Milan (Massimo Minini and Francesca Minini) and Verona (Galleria Dello Scudo), Accardi's works arrived in London in 2020 at the London branch of the Milan gallery ML Fine Art, coinciding with her major retrospective at the Museo del Novecento in Milan. Last year, the artist broke her auction record at Dorotheum, confirming the steady growth of her price index over the past five years.

Accardi’s trajectory and the solidity of the great masters showed how painting, especially post-war painting, is truly perceived as a safe investment for today’s market in terms of growth and value stability over time.

Naturally, there was also a large presence of proper contemporary artists, for whom painting, and more generally wall art, and dialogue with sculpture remained favoured. For instance, the large acrylics on canvas, collages and light installations by Marinella Senatore (1977) - together with works by Accardi, Savino, De Chirico and Vedova - at Mazzoleni Gallery (London, Turin); the dialogue between Dee Ferris’s landscapes on canvas (1973) and John Lindell’s ceramics (1956) at Corvi Mora (London); the solo exhibition of Olu Oguibe (1964) at Giampaolo Abbondio (Todi), which reflected between colour and form through different expressions such as watercolours, drawings and sculptures; Javier Barros (1989) brought 12 drawings in conversation with Murano glass works by Koenraad Dedobbeleer (1975) for Clearing (Brussels, New York, Los Angeles). 

Worthy of mention was the “Dissolvenze” project presented by Galleria Paola Verrengia (Salerno), which exhibited Maria Elisabetta Novello’s (1974) shrines that imprison combustion, together with her impermissible and gritty block of earth that reported on the artist’s research into the material. Dialogue was established with one of the Tromboloidi (acrylic on forex) by Gianni Asdrubali (1955), eliminating the void from pictorial space, and the perforated drawings by Amparo Sard (1973). The Alberta Pane Gallery (Paris, Venice), set up a playful and irreverent universe originated by the works of Davide Sgambaro (1989), João Vilhena (1973) and Ivan Moudov (1975). Sgambaro, in line with his poetics of precariousness, brought wall-mounted works with a playful and alienating nature, using unconventional supports such as framed foam burned with cigarettes and cotton sheets framed on looms following various bed dimensions, on which the food colouring of the popular m&m’s is imprinted, taking on pleasant muted tones; Vilhena exhibited the series of drawings “Beau à la louche” (pun for eau à la bouche), influenced by Ruth Orkin’s photography and reworked with a mischievous pop ambience; Moudov pondered on the conventions of the art system starting with his Energy Paintings, part of his “First, Admit You Have a Problem” project, developed during his 2019 solo show at the gallery’s Paris venue, where the artist dealt with collecting as an addiction, creating the Collectors Anonymous group meeting every Tuesday, and offering a - homeopathic - tablet along with one of the acrylics he made and subsequently covered in white.

Among the Emergents, A.Romy (Zurich), a gallery founded during the pandemic by Alexandra Romy, stood out with its dialogue between the layered painting of Zoe de Soumagnat (1987), built on the model of a garden that reflects the artist’s studies on the subject, and the totemic ceramics of Maya Hottarek (1990), who works on the connection with nature. A few steps further on, the Milan-based eastcontemporary gallery staged an articulated installation to experience the works of Emilia Kina (1990) in the round. The artist has given unusual shapes to the looms and then covered them with canvases in muted tones, straddling the line between sculpture and painting. Closing on the opening, the project by Una gallery (Piacenza) dedicated to lettering and writing, which hosted the series of paintings “Incentives” by Italo Zuffi (1969) in dialogue with the production system of art; Josep Maynou’s (1980) alphabets on different supports such as carpets, chopping boards, chocolate bar wrappers; and Stefano Calligaro’s (1976) “Poetricks”, short and direct anti-poetry that always conceals multiple deceptive meanings.

A sensitive edition

“Crescendo” aimed to recall the protection of biodiversity and environment, following one of the three narrative expedients of the fair, art & earth, which drew on miart’s promoting role within the Gallery Climate Coalition Italia and its intent to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement by reducing emissions in the art industry by 50% by 2030. Confirming the trends brought about by the pandemic, there were no printed materials - with the exception of the usual map - replaced by the digital format in order to favour practices with a lower environmental impact.

The fair also demonstrated a certain sensitivity to urban development issues and the need to establish open dialogues with the community. As every year, the Milano Art Week was launched at the same time as the fair.

The event is organised in collaboration with the City of Milan and networks the city’s main public institutions and private foundations dealing with modern and contemporary art, from Palazzo Reale to Pirelli HangarBicocca, from Fondazione Prada to PAC and many others, with a dedicated programme. For this year, however, Ricciardi, who had already involved various venues in the city during miart 2021 with the Starry Worlds project, has opened an active collaboration with the Milan Triennale, staging a free programme of dialogues within the fair in one of the city’s most prestigious cultural venues.

The only flaw in terms of public involvement was the overwhelming force exerted by the Milano Design Week, this year starting on the 17th of April. The Design Week had a considerable impact on the communication of miart and the Milano Art Week events. The excessive proximity between the two Weeks caused the contemporary art fair to be overshadowed by the prominence of an internationally renowned event in one of the world’s design capitals: the Salone del Mobile. It is a lesson to take into account in a city that, after the pandemic crisis, needs to give back the right space and time to increasingly large events, where art cannot and must not play an ancillary role.

Nevertheless, the 2023 edition of miart has been very successful in terms of increasing prestige and attracting Italian and international art market players to the city - evidence of which is the opening of several international gallery venues in the past year - that will be in the hands of the next edition, scheduled for the 12th to the 14th of April 2024.

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