A Guide to Turin’s Art Scene
There are a lot of reasons to visit Torino and my favorite reason, or excuse, if you like, is contemporary art. Torino is like no other in Italy. It’s not ancient Roman ruins and Renaissance villas, instead it’s a gorgeous grid of Liberty and Art Nouveau palaces and modern architecture overlapping lapping the 17th and 18th century landscape. Italy’s original modern city and where you’ll find the most illuminating museums, galleries, foundations, and art fairs.
A quick history of creativity is key to understanding contemporary Torino and why it is the place to find great contemporary art. It pivotal role as the birth place of Italy in 1870 spawned communities of free thinkers and intellectual revolutionaries. The rise of FIAT, Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino transformed the town into a metropolis, and the next 120 years, Torino became a mecca for creative thinkers, titans of industry, art patrons and benefactors. Ironically, the cash rich town also was hub to the Arte Povera movement of the 1960s.
Must Visit Galleries
Pinacoteca Agnelli is an art destination and my favorite art space in the city, even if just for its dramatic location on the rooftop of the historic FIAT factory, . Originally, the Renzo Piano-designed gallery was the gallery space housing Giovanni and Marella Agnelli’s collection of 25 not-so-mind-blowing masterpieces from Rubens to Matisse. In 2022, the collection was completely rebooted into a multi-level, multi-exhibition venue.
The Agnelli collection is in a newly renovated, central space and throughout the year, is curatorially “reframed “, paired with an accompanying guest show inspired by a work in the collection. The gallery itself has now expanded over three floors, with a panoramic, FIAT 500 themed caffe and temporary exhibition spaces like Sylvie Fleury’s Turn Me On and the upcoming Lee Lonzano Strike.
The Pista 500,a once barren track used for where newly made FIATs raced, is now a landscaped “highline” of site-specific art installations and plantings. You can work out, walk the track and take in pieces by Nina Beier, VALIE EXPORT, Sylvie Fleury, Liam Gillick, Marco Giordano, Nan Goldin, Shilpa Gupta, Louise Lawler, Mark Leckey and Cally Spooner. And you can walk down the spiral track to the ground floor, passing site specific installations.
Fondazione Merz, for me, is the embodiment of Torino’s contemporary art vibe. The foundaiton was artist Beatrice Merz, daughter of artists Mario and Marisa Merz and was initially intended to be an archive of decades of both artists’ work. Mario was an outspoken antifacist and political prison during World War II. Post war, he moved to Torino and studied medicine before turning to art. Both Mario and Marisa were integral in Arte Povera movement.
From archive to artist space, over the past decade and half, Fondazione Merz has been showing exhibitions by contemporary artists such as Alfredo Jaar, Kara Walker and Michal Rovner. And it works. This is a place to introduce yourself to next generation contemporary artists. And I love the space. Merz transformed a 1930s era heating plant (formerly Lancia factory) into a huge exhibition space.
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
When asked about art patrons and Torino, the name that comes to mind is Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Sandretto Re Rebaudengo is a relentless collector ever since an early 1990s weekend in London touring the YBA studios. All she wanted to do was collect art and then funneled her passion into Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo FSSR.
FSSR has expanded in the following decades and along with individual and group shows like Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Air Pressure, the foundation is a platform for art prizes (including a tie-in with Artissima), collaborations and education projects. FSSR also has a very Insta art park (with site specific work by Carsten Höller, Paul Kneale, Marguerite Humeau, and others) in Guarene, an hours drive southeast of the city.
Gallerie D’Italia- Torino
Banca Intesa’s newest gallery Gallerie D’Italia- Torino has a prime address in Torino’s historic Piazza San Carlo, a beautiful 17th century arcaded square – so just a visit to the piazza is worth it. And it gets better because Gallerie d’Italia is a 10,000 squaure meter underground exhibition space designed by architect Michele de Lucchi.
The Barbarella-worthy bunker hosts exhibitions dedicated to contemporary photography and video art, and is home to the Publifoto Archive, some 7 million images by Italy’s top photojournalists from the 1930s to 90s.
Architecture is everything at OGR, Torino’s 20,000 square foot visual and performing arts center. A cathedral of brick, OCG was once Torino’s train repair facility. Today, it’s the perfect site for spectacular exhibitions like Arthur Jaffa’s Rhamesjafacoseyjafadrayton, a multimedia installation, labyrinth and video experience.
Castello di Rivoli
Just a half hour drive west of Torino in the fairy tale green countryside of castles and vineyards is Castello di Rivoli, medieval fortress and former home to the illustrious Savoy nobility. In some ways, Rivoli is the snowball that rolled out Torino’s contemporary scene.
In 1984, the castle opened as Italy’s first museum dedicated to contemporary art. The collection, on its own is spectacular, a deep range of epic pieces from Arte Povera to Maurizio Cattelan, Beeple and Olafur Eliasson. And the monumental setting is equally dramatic with 17th century frescos on its ceiling and walls, and ornate molding and pavements.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna
The name gives it way. Galleria d’Arte Moderna is entirely focused on modern art, not contemporary, and that’s what puts it on the list as a bonus museum for contemporary art lovers.
With room after room a chronological curation of its 19th and 20th Italian art (of its 45,000 piece collection), GAM is full immersion in the evolution and movements of modern Italian art from macchiaoli to Mimmo Paladino.
Artissima Annual Art Fair
Every since its 1994 founding, contemporary art Artissima has putting the spotlight on Torino. From a simple fair to a city-wide event, Artissima is four-day arty party of openings, dinners and events.
Artisssima itself takes place during the first weekend of November at the Oval Lingotto, the repurposed 2006 Olympic skating ring. The open space is lined with booths where galleries showcase artists. The fair’s focus is bringing smaller and next generation galleries, gallerists and artists – Italians and international – to the global art scene so along with the booths, expected curated sections, conferences and talks.
The city and its many galleries and foundations coordinate with Artissima with exhibition openings and artist and gallery talks. Expect to hobnob with art world illuminati. The most coveted event is dinner at Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaugdengo’s villa in the city center
Where to Stay and Getting Around
Planning a trip to Artissima? I stayed at the DoubleTree Lingotto, one of the coolest hotels in the city. Designed by Renzo Piano, the DoubleTree is a gorgeous glass box with the ideal art address adjacent to the FIAT factory.
Getting around Torino? The city is grid, so it’s quite easy to navigate. Gruppo Torinese Trasporti (GTT) has the city networked with buses, trams and a metro line.
Getting to Torino? Take the train. There are direct trains to Torino Porta Nuova train station from Rome (four hours), Milan (1 hour) and Florence (3 hours).
A version of this article appeared in Forbes Travel.