Having successfully navigated both airport security and customs with three suitcases full of artwork in tow - despite raising suspicions and requiring inspections of certain sculptures - Collective Ending arrived in Milan to take part in co_atto, an alternative satellite art fair coinciding with Milan Art Week and miart. Consisting of eighteen subterranean shop window style vitrine spaces at Porta Garibaldi Stazione, the Piccadilly Circus equivalent of Milan’s metro, this ‘non-fair’ returns for its second edition, supporting and spotlighting independent galleries and curators not eligible for miart, the city’s annual modern and contemporary art fair. Sustained by succulent market stall strawberries we set about installing a continental CASA, the first international iteration of our itinerant exhibition series HOUSE showcasing one artwork from each of our Collective Ending HQ studio members. This was the first time we have exhibited as a full complement since 2020, and we were pleasantly surprised by the seeming solidarity and coincidental cohesion between our artist’s practices.
In the intervening two years, both Gobyfish Collective and Yuli Serfaty have joined our ranks, and for co_atto the former’s Maia Magoga and Fenella Brereton are showing sculptural objects in keeping with their collaborative practice exploring the ritualistic side of food preparation and consumption, while Serfaty is exhibiting a C-Type print depicting a glistening CGI’d Lockheed C-130 Hercules - the American turboprop military transport aircraft - nose nestled into the ground. Alongside, Elliot Fox‘s Alloyed Thinking continues his examination of Cornwall’s post-industrial meets natural landscape and includes faux tree facial features and a miniaturised replica Gwennap Pit, as Alia Hamaoui’s roadside shrine simulacrum is resplendent in mosaic tiles and the artist’s signature dyed sand. Billy Fraser debuts his Cry Havoc series of resin tablets, here with poured liquid pewter encased amongst the Latin letters, and _ˈpɑː®tɪk(ə)l_ introduced the first in a new body of hand-carved black Valchromat sculptures, made moveable across their supporting panels by a complex configuration of magnets. Finally, Harrison Pearce fittingly contributes a previously unseen prototype for the soft sculpture edition he released at Milan’s Ribot Gallery last year, and Ted Le Swer’s polished poster board is plastered with imagery taken from his martian moving image work Storm Arnold.
Co_atto’s subway stop site allows for an impressive amount of footfall, especially seeing as the station seems to be a major junction in the local metro network. During our trip, we walked by a number of times on our way through Porta Garibaldi and celebrated seeing passersby stopping to inspect the curated selection of independent international offerings.
A marked difference in the Milanese artistic milieu, in contrast to our own in London, is their penchant for private museums and foundations, the Pirelli HangarBicocca and the Fondazione Prada being two standout examples. The former, located on the outskirts of the city, is a one-time locomotive factory that has been totally transformed into a crawling complex for contemporary art, complete with Anselm Kiefer’s permanent installation The Seven Heavenly Palace (which recently acted as a pop-up vaccination station, well worth searching out images of people patiently awaiting immunisation amongst the artist’s teetering concrete towers).
Anicka Yi‘s temporary exhibition Metaspore offered a welcome deeper insight into the South Korean artist’s conceptual practice, having previously only witnessed her recent commission in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. A bulbous PVC biodome houses an artistic ecosystem reliant on its carpet of ochre stained bread dough; twin washing machine doors contain Eau de Bullfrog or Traennen until opened by inquisitive visitors, and nearby hanging lamps inspired by Isamu Noguchi flicker as animatronic insects inside flit this way and that. A seminal early work scrutinising our basic need to respirate and ingest/digest, Skype Sweater, consists of an oversized opake parachute perpetually billowing; an entirely see-through Lanchamp duffel filled to bursting with hair gel, cow innards and floating fish hooks; an iridescent Mylar missive deep-fried in tempura batter, and bloodied razor blades embedded in a slab of glycerin.
Next door, unknowingly encountering Static - Steve McQueen’s famed Statue of Liberty film - projected on an almost IMAX scale screen with surround sound summoning a helicopter hovering overhead, was an artistic experience almost unparalleled. The artist’s temporary exhibition Sunshine State also sees the debut of his latest moving image artwork of the same name, a two-channel projection that opens with film footage of the sun that bathes the HangarBicocca’s stadium-sized space in a warm orange wash. As the artwork progresses McQueen’s own narration retells a troubling familial anecdote, accompanying distorted and disturbing footage from The Jazz Singer (1927), the earliest cinematic example of including synchronised dialogue, including now-infamous scenes of Al Jolson applying blackface makeup.
Across town, at the Fondazione Prada, the pre-existing early 20th-century architecture of its site on a former distillery is juxtaposed with avante-garde structural interventions designed by Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA, including the jewel in the crown, a central four-story building clad entirely in twenty-four-carat gold foil. Known as the Haunted House, this gilded gallery space is the permanent home to works by Robert Gober and Louise Bourgeois, which while although not scary in the carnival funhouse sense, instead evokes emotional upset or the onset of an existential crisis, one subtitled by Bourgeois’ embroidery that reads The Cold Of Anxiety Is Very Real.
Much of the foundation, and indeed its central Milan offsite Osservatorio, feels if not directly favourable to, then at least wilfully aware of, the phenomenon of the Art Selfie, with many a mirrored wall, mood lighting and immersive installation. Case in point Carsten Höller‘s upturned agaric mushrooms, accessible only through an unnerving sensory deprivation passageway, which although charmingly homemade in person were partly interrupted by the aspiring influencers undertaking mid-photoshoot wardrobe changes behind the revolving Amanita muscaria.
The previous evening, Plastic - Milan’s premier nightspot - played host to the official afterparty for the opening of Fondazione Prada’s latest exhibition, Elmgreen & Dragset‘s Useless Bodies?, including displaying the duo’s video artworks and install shots behind each DJ booth, intercut with footage from The Beatle’s animated adventure movie Yellow Submarine. The exhibition itself, however, was of little interest, especially having previously seen their 2018 Whitechapel Gallery survey, but did offer the chance to view the artist’s satirical skewering of art fair infrastructure The Outsiders (2020). Originally parked outside last year’s Art Basel, this Mercedes W123 features two life-sized and like-like figures fast asleep, spooning while surrounded by packing materials, wrapped artworks, wall labels, shipping tubes, discarded drinks bottles and other detritus. Their Basel installer passes and lanyard rest neatly on the dashboard. It’s a peaceful picture that belies the hard work and often limited financial remuneration that comes from art world employment and feels equally apt in its current context, given the foundation even insists that all staff return their Prada designed uniforms at the end of each day, for fear of secondary market resale.
Speaking of art fairs, despite an engaging and exciting emerging art entranceway, miart unfolded into a mass of mostly 20th-century monotony, save for a few familiar faces in the form of Anna Perach tufted totems with ADA, Márton Nemes‘ pyrotechnic paintings with acb Gallery, Sam Bakewell’s scrumptious ceramics with Corvi-Mora, Zoe Barcza’s cosmic collages with Darren Flook, Todd Bienvenu’s surfers swimming in impasto oil with Galerie Sebastian Bertrand and Josephine Baker’s debris dioramas with Nir Altman.
Of the city’s commercial gallery circuit, select personal highpoints include Maurizio Cattelan’s suicidal sculptural self-portrait YOU installed within the grandiose green marble bathroom of Massimo De Carlo’s Casa Corbellini-Wassermann headquarters; eastcontemporary’s presentation of Emilia Kina’s trompe-l'œil curtains complete with warped wavy canvases and pleasing pastel pinks and Valerio Nicolai’s solo exhibition at Clima consisting of two murals with foregrounded foxes set atop fading patterned picture plane. Majestic murals in and of themselves, they graduate to genius status once you spot the four ocular orifices in place of the vulpine eyes, through which peep whichever poor interns or studio/gallery assistants the artist has persuaded to crouch behind the false walls for the exhibition’s duration (special mention should be made to the playful attendant who roguishly requited our winking!).
Elsewhere, Sans titre (2016) presented a pop-up exhibition to mark the release of Robert Brambora’s magnificent monograph, featuring fresh paintings of post-apocalyptic highways rendered in an autumnal palette alongside copper glazed ceramic countenances placed upon plinths complete with lucky pennies and other discarded copper coinage, all hosted within a local artist studio space. Lastly, and our final stop before heading back to Milan Malpensa airport, Eduardo Secci‘s two gallery spaces are resplendent in malbec maroon for a two-person exhibition of Daniel Crews-Chubb, whose primitive pigmented figures appear carved out of coarse collaged surfaces stained with sand, spray paint and oil stick, and Kevin Francis Gray, who creates his battered busts in collaboration with one of Italy’s last marble studios employing traditional techniques recalling the Renaissance.
Perhaps the biggest take-away from my time in Milan, was the exhilarating enjoyment of being surprised by art once again. I find that feeling rare in London these days, as for the majority of exhibitions I visit I have either promoted them in advance, have seen abundant install shots or artworks photographs online, or have had the pleasure of being involved to some degree in their production. To enter the galleries, foundations and museums in Milan with little prior knowledge as to what I would find was refreshing and reinvigorating, and a feeling I will look to replicate and recapture.
Lastly, I would like to thank Marta and the co_atto team for their invitation and continued support of Collective Ending, Elliot and Billy for their company and Mauro, Andrea, Julia, Agnieszka, Matteo, Maria, Elisa, Daniel, Robert, Darren, Valeria, Vittoria and Agnese for their hospitality!