contemporary art / history of art

The early days of the ARTE FIERA and its anniversary edition 2024

With its 47th edition the Bolognese art fair ARTE FIERA also celebrated its 50th anniversary. Herewith, the art trade exhibition is Italy’s oldest still enduring art fair. Already the advertising panels at the entry referred to the foundation year 1974. Inside the exhibition halls, a booth with the enlarged pages of the “Numero zero”, the catalogue of the first edition illustrated the first step of the trade show. It started with only 10 exhibitors, mainly from Bologna, but also from Rome, Milan, Turin and Ferrara. Even though at the time organized as an accompanying event to the already established trade fair Campionaria, the first ARTE FIERA was the cornerstone for a long-lasting exchange between galleries, artists and the public. A commented chronology of the art fair between 1974 and 1979, which was exposed beside the catalogue underlines the attainment.

The significance of the ARTE FIERA was confirmed by its second edition. In 1975, 202 exhibitors filled three pavilions and it was no longer placed beside the Campionaria. Here met once again mostly Italian galleries and art publishers. Only three galleries came from abroad. However, a certain internationality was provided by the already international experienced participants. Moreover, the ARTE FIERA’s ambition to have its finger on the pulse of time is evident. Besides “traditional” art, photography and experimentation had their place since the very beginning, just as the contribution to Bologna’s cultural vitality. The inauguration of the new Gallery of Modern Art (GAM) in direct neighbourhood to the exhibition place and other collateral events witness the will to be more than a trading platform for art.

A temporary highlight was in 1976. With 289 exhibitors, not only from Italy but also from many other countries, the ARTE FIERA solidified its place in the international art world. The galleries came from all over Europe, primarily from the western part and some from Eastern Europe. Additionally, there were several galleries from overseas, especially from the United States. Furthermore, the cooperative character of the art fair was underlined, by the rich performance programme, which was jointly presented by “Il Cavallino” (Venice) and the “Ronald Feldman Gallery” (New York). “Practically nothing to sell”, a separate exhibition of commented photos illustrated these artistic interventions. With performers like Herman Nitsch, Urs Lüthi, Franco Vaccari and Rosanna Chiessi and Peppe Morra the relevance of the ARTE FIERA as a showcase of contemporary art was confirmed.

Even though held with less exhibitors (240 galleries and art publishers), ARTE FIERA’s edition of 1977 confirmed its position. Besides the continuous attention to photography, “multiplied art” found its way into the halls. Herewith, it reflected an international trend to make art more accessible to a larger audience. The side-event “International Performance Week” in the nearby GAM assured the participating galleries and international artists to broaden their cooperation in this field. “Imponderabilia” by Marina Abramovic and Ulay was an unforgettable highlight.

In 1978, the decreasing number of exhibitors (231) had been compensated by the “Stand/one – Alternative space for young artists” where 30 young artists could promote and sell their works free of charge. It was also a response to the growing criticism of the art market. The decline continued in the following year. However, the organisers made a virtue of necessity and introduced an area dedicated to large installations. Due to the political and cultural situation the ARTE FIERA was suspended in the following years. In 1983, the Bolognese art fair was back since its significance for commercial and cultural exchange was recognised.

With its anniversary edition (2 – 4 February 2024), the ARTE FIERA remained faithful to its roots. There were three curated sections: Photography and moving Images (17 galleries), Multiples (13 galleries) and Pittura XXI (16 galleries with paintings from the 21st century). The main section with its 126 exhibitors presenting Modern, post-war and contemporary art included the category “Percorso”. This itinerary connected artists of different generations and styles by the common theme, the drawing. Additionally, several art editors attended the two pavilions. The Peruvian artist Daniela Ortiz invited the public to participate in her performance “Tiro al Blanco” (target shooting). Two works by Maurizio Cattelan dialogued on a stage by Mutina for Art (Because). Visitors could participate to the many Book Talks and found an extension nearby with venues close to the exhibition grounds. Finally, in Bologna and its surroundings the 12th edition of the ART CITY took place. In former articles we described several of the over 200 events in the time before, during and after the ARTE FIERA.

* The information about the history of the ARTE FIERA originates from the press releases of the art fair and the commented chronology 1974-1979 in the exhibition ground.