The Very Best of Artissima 2015

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Artissima 2015Photography by Martina Ferrara

As the curtains close on the Italian art fair's 22nd edition, we bring you our highlights – from the intimate to the inspirational

The pilgrimage to Turinese art fair Artissima begins at Lingotto subway station, where one emerges from darkness into bright Italian sunshine and is promptly engulfed by a sea of art enthusiasts wending their way to the fair's home at the Oval – the striking, glass-panelled building created in 2006 for the Winter Olympics, where it played host to high speed skating competitions. Although of course no skating is involved in the four-day long event, Artissima certainly keeps visitors on their toes – this year's fair involved collaborations with 207 galleries from 35 different countries, each working within the confines of its three sections, Present/Future (a showcase of the most exciting new contemporary artists), Back to the Future (highlighting an overlooked era of note) and Per4m (the innovative performance section, now in its sophomore year).

The concept at the heart of the famous Italian fair "is, and always has been innovation," Artissima director Sarah Cosulich Canarutto tells AnOther. Her pioneering approach – which involves extensive research to build myriad relationships with curators from all over the world to help select the galleries involved – has seen the fair go from strength to strength during her four-year tenure. "We want to provide a platform for our galleries and artists to gain the best possible visibility within the international art scene," she explains, "and I think we're succeeding. Last year, Rachel Rose was the winner of our illy prize for new artists and since then her career has exploded!"

One of the most important factors for Canarutto is the appearance of the stands: "It's not about how big a name the gallery is; it's about their ability to create an interesting space." Indeed, the presentation and high quality of the artworks shown at this year's fair have seen it widely heralded as the best edition yet. Here, we present a three-step guide to the themes and highlights that defined Artissima 2015, accompanied by exquisite imagery from Milan-based photographer Martina Ferrara, captured especially for AnOther.

The Gesticulation Genre 
A number of standout works at the show drew particular attention to gesture and its many interpretations. A sculpture by South African artist Ed Young – which saw a breathtakingly lifelike cast of his own arm, complete with carefully inserted, plucked hairs – assumed a typically Italian, clenched-fingered gesture, begging the question, "Just what do you want?" Protruding from the stark white wall of Smac Gallery's booth, it made for a witty and arresting sight, cutting through the pomp that so often accompanies art fairs. London's Richard Saltoun gallery provided a rare chance to explore Azione Sentimentale, the 1974 performance piece by Art Corporel artist Gina Pane, whereby Pane pressed rose thorns into her own arm in an exploration of pleasure and pain. The close-up photographs of her pierced arm and hands are both disturbing and beautiful.

Another chance to explore brilliant performative work came courtesy of Dan Gunn (Berlin) & Ellen de Bruijne Projects (Amsterdam) who co-curated an award-winning booth dedicated to avant-garde American artist Michael Smith, famed for his hilarious embodiment of various alter-egos – including bumbling antihero 'Mike' – which joyfully parody American pop culture. Last but not least, a moving large-scale photograph of Marina Abramović's piece Holding Emptiness (2012) – which shows the artist, dressed all in black against a white wall, framing an empty space in her pale pink hands – provided a moment of meditative reflection.

Wonder Women 
There were many fascinating showcases of the work of inspiring female artists at this year's fair – particularly in the Back to the Future section, which focussed solely on pieces created between the years of 1975 and 1985. There was an installation from Nanda Vigo, a key pioneer in Italy's modern art movement, whose celebrated output skirts the bounds of design, architecture and installation. An eye-popping combination of triangular mirrored sculptures and light installations, the work typified Vigo's ongoing interest in the phenomenological effects of light and space, and was great fun to explore and interact with. 

Then there was Warsaw gallery Monopol's booth dedicated to Maria Pinińska-Bereś, a key instigator of feminist art in Poland (a number of her works are currently on show at the Tate's The World Goes Pop exhibition). Overshadowed in her lifetime by the success of her artist husband Jerzy Bere, today Pinińska-Bereś has garnered great acclaim for her evocative sculptures and performance pieces exploring gender division in a patriarchal and increasingly consumerist society. In a moving land-art series from 1977, she carried a flag around to various rural locations in Poland, knocking its stake into the ground and sitting down next to it, temporarily claiming a piece of land as her own. We also enjoyed Micheline Szwajcer Gallery's spotlighting of Flemish artist Lili Dujourie, whose work – encompassing black and white videos focussing on her own naked form; bold, majestic sculptural installations and captivating abstract collages – playfully probes at art historical convention. 

Sense and Sexuality
Finally, much like this year's Frieze London, Artissima frequently boasted a distinctly sensual side. The Richard Saltoun Gallery was the official capital of kinky with a tantalising display of highly sexualised, predominantly monochrome works from the likes of Tom of Finland, Valie EXPORT, Pierre Molinier, Otto Muehl and subversive Austrian provocateur Friedl Kubelka whose photographs hung in a suitably covert nook against a bright red wall, in cheeky contrast to the booth's other white divides. Genoan gallery Guidi&Schoen devoted their stand to New York underground filmmaker and photographer, Richard Kern, whose obsession with the aesthetics of extreme sex, violence, and perversion were tangible in a mesmerising black and white photo series – including a post-coital nude lying face down on a bed and a gun toting femme fatal. 

But perhaps most explicit of all (albeit in a more cartoon-like sense) was the stand of Isabella Bortolozzi and Cabinet: an exhibition of the works of Pierre Klossowski, the older but no less sexually driven brother of Balthus. Klossowski made his wife Denise his muse and imagined her (vividly and obsessively) in all sorts of sensationally sexual scenarios rendered in both painting and sculpture. 

With special thanks to Artissima.