An Interview with Sarah Cosulich - The Director of Artissima Art Fair Talks New Endeavors in Turin

October 27, 2015

Under her now four-year guidance, Artissima has become a proper force to be reckoned with among the world’s biggest art fairs. Sarah Cosulich Canarutto is someone with a rich background in curating, which reaches events as big as the Venice Biennale - for the 50th edition, she was the assistant to Director Francesco Bonami. But her achievements do not stop there.

Born in 1974, Sarah Cosulich Canarutto worked as a curator of the Villa Manin Centre for Contemporary Art in Udine, Italy, where she successfully realized over 20 exhibition projects. In 2009, she helped the foundation of Cardi Black Box Milano and worked as the artistic director during the first year of its existence (she was in charge of Carsten Hoeller’s major show there). Currently, and for five years now, she’s been living in Switzerland, working as an art advisor and being in charge of many private collections. She is a contributing editor of many art magazines, a curatorship and museology speaker at many universities in Italy and abroad, and the author of two monographs (on Jeff Koons, 2006 and Gabriel Orozco, 2008).

Since Sarah Cosulich Canarutto became the director of Artissima, the Torino art fair has significantly expanded its program, introducing many novelties never before seen at such artistic event.

One such innovation is Per4M, an entire section dedicated to performance art - something you don’t expect to see at a trading venue. Yet, as long as Sarah Cosulich is Artissima’s guide, we shall expect the unexpected, as everything she did so far has proven to be a rather enormous success.

We talked to Sarah Cosulich Canarutto about what makes Artissima stand out, the art market situation in Italy, this year’s exciting new projects and much more. Scroll down and have a read!

On The Italian Market and Collectors

Widewalls: This year will see the first program dedicated to collectors, especially the young Italian ones. Do you think they have a lot to learn? As Artissima surely had an immense influence on the Italian art market, how did it shape the way Italian collectors comprehend contemporary art?

Sarah Cosulich: Artissima has a very specific role in relationship to international contemporary art, especially with emerging artists. Collectors, not just Italian, have found in Artissima a platform where to discover and buy young artists or pioneers who often have great recognition afterwards. Artissima is an initiator at international level and because of that, national belonging is not relevant. We would like to make collectors feel more involved in our scope, research and identity, allowing them to make the most of their experience in the fair and consequently increase the satisfaction of the galleries involved.

Widewalls: While many international galleries are taking part at the fair, you also vow to support the local and national art scene. How are things on the Italian market today?

SC: The Italian market is not facing the best moment today mainly because of fiscal conditions tha are not helping the acquisition of art, yet the scene is active and vibrant and we wish to create the best conditions possible for our galleries and artists to acquire visibility within the international art scene.

On Artissima's Extensive Program

Widewalls: What does it mean, for an art fair like Artissima and for art fairs in general, to have an entire section dedicated to performance art? Artissima was the first ever to do it, and it’s not something you would expect to see at an art fair, given it’s difficult to collect it, so to speak. 

SC: Per4m represents a paradigm shift in the way performance art is considered within contemporary art fairs and rounds off the scope of Artissima with a solution that gives the fair’s well-established experimental character an extra edge in terms of research and exceeding the previously traced paths.
With Per4m, Artissima aims to take stock of the current conditions of performance art, especially starting from its relatively new presence on the art market. Per4m is a platform on which performance is considered as work on a par with the others present in the fair and runs with the same criteria, the market dimension being no exception. As such, it has not been created as a fringe programme, but as a fully-fledged commercial endeavour.

Widewalls: Why is it important for Artissima to focus on both the careful selection of participating galleries and the development of an extensive program which accompanies it all? 

SC: The careful selection, often with the help and vision of international curators, allows for quality and experimentation, creates that element of discovery which we wish to offer to our public. The program which accompanies the fair is necessary for us to renew ourselves, to rethink the relationship with galleries, artists, curators, collectors. These are also initiatives which enrich the experience of the fair and of the city allowing more visitors and interest.

On Uniqueness in Presentation

Widewalls: What can you tell us about this year’s exhibitors? Which are the debutants and which are the ones coming back? Could you give us an example of a certain criteria a gallery needs to possess in order to become a part of Artissima?

SC: Debutants are the galleries that take part to our New Entries section and many of the galleries that take part in Present Future that we help with special conditions.
At Artissima, galleries do more than simply setting up booths: even established galleries present fully fledged projects, engagingly curated and selected booths along every corridor of the pavilion. Our exhibitors, from all over the world, appreciate the challenges offered by the fair and its focus towards research.
It is thanks to them that Artissima remains so unique and full of surprises.

Widewalls: You are making sure that Artissima stands out in the global art market, with innovations being introduced every year. You’ve also mentioned more than once that many fairs even look up to and “copy” from you. How would you describe the differences between yours and the vision of other fairs?

SC: There is not a different vision but a different identity. We wish to compete knowing that we should not adapt to a model but become our own in order to differentiate ourselves. There are many fairs around the world and you have to provide a reason to galleries and collectors to choose where to go.

On The Future

Widewalls: Is there something you wouldn’t want for Artissima to become? What are your views on globalization, art fairs like Art Basel having annual events all over the world? Can you tell us about the significance of the city of Turin as the home for Italy’s, and one of Europe’s, most important fairs?

SC: Artissima should not become a general fair, it should remain tied to its context, a city which offers an incredible and sophisticated cultural experience, great food, wine and an exceptional network of contemporary art institutions, foundations, collections. It is the city of Alighiero Boetti, of Arte Povera, of the Castello di Rivoli - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, of an avant-garde that needs to be maintained and cherished.

Widewalls: What will Artissima focus on in the future, under your guidance?

SC: More selection, coherent quality, further development of the curated sections, further expansion of the international collectors base, more countries, more research, a greater attention to the general public, to the knowledge of contemporary art and the ability to surprise.

Artissima, the international contemporary art fair, will take place in Turin between November 6th and 8th. For our exclusive coverage, sign up for a free Widewalls profile!

Featured image: Sarah Cosulich, Artissima director. Photo by Michele D'Ottavio
All images courtesy of Artissima