Taking in Turin: a look at the city’s contemporary art

When most people think of Turin, first thoughts immediately go to one of three things – The Shroud of Turin, Juventus Football Club, or the conveniently close location of the airport to the ski slopes. But that is by no means all this hidden gem of Italy has to offer. Usually overlooked by tourists for cities like Rome, Florence and Milan, the former capital of Italy located in the north of the country, definitely has something to offer other than a conveniently close location to the ski slopes in winter.

Arriving on a late flight we dropped off our baggage at the NH Santo Stefano located just a few minutes’ walk from several major Turin landmarks including the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, where the Shroud of Turin is located and Turin opera house, not to mention many excellent restaurants, cafes and shops just a stones throw away from our hotel. The four-star Santo Stefano offers 125 guest rooms, wireless internet access, minibar and LCD TVs with satellite service and excellent customer service.

We were promised on our trip a look at the contemporary art Turin has to offer which became no more apparent as we entered the hotel that they had their very own contemporary art installation for guests. Created by the people at Posterheroes, the installation featured thousands of postcards suspended from the ceiling of the hotel’s main entrance. Walking down the sloping staircase, there are many posters each with a unique message.

From there we spent the evening walking around Turin looking not only at the usual sights the city had to offer but also the newly installed light installations scattered around the city which was aglow with bright-coloured lights covering the streets, climbing across the city landmarks and decorating the piazzas. It wasn’t just the light installations though. Seemingly at every turn there was more to be seen – and this is just in the streets. The city really is a home for contemporary art.

After our tour of the city at night, we dined at a local restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful four course meal including an excellent pork and apple dish in a walnut sauce which is traditional of the region. Another site to take in early the next morning was the Porta Polazzo market – the largest market in all of Europe. Chances are if you want anything from everyday items to the more traditional or speciality delicacies of Turin, it’s probably on offer here. Again just a short walk from the Santo Stefano, the market is worth going to even if just to look and listen to the sights and sounds of Turin, which is seemingly a melting pot of different cultures.

We spent the day absorbing the art and sights that the city had to offer and the amount on tap was astounding. Driving from destination to destination, we had to stop several times to take pictures and view statues and architecture. Just walking around the city during the daytime probably would have been enough to keep us entertained but one particular place we stopped in that really was fascinating was the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. The gallery which is open on Thursdays from 8pm to 11pm and on Friday to Sunday, 12pm to 7pm offers two of the most unique art concepts you could ever see… especially in Italy! First off we were taken into a room that had 144 images of a man in speedos. Painted by Ragnar Kjartansson over a period of 6 months, the unique project saw Kjartansson spend his time painting the portrait of the same model every single day; walking into the room offered a completely surreal experience, the walls covered in paintings of the same man painted in varying styles, carrying out various tasks, plastered from floor to ceiling – it really was a unique sight to behold.

The rest of the gallery looked at art influenced by Presidential campaigns, focusing on the United States elections and taking a look into the art of the propaganda behind those elections. Not only does the exhibition have some fascinating artworks and videos from Presidential campaigns but there is also a room which featured an array of Presidential campaign aids. From buttons supporting Jimmy Carter to become president, to a bobble-head doll of Hilary Clinton, it really was fascinating looking at all of the pro and anti candidate paraphernalia that has been created for the various elections in previous years.

From there we moved on to a shopping centre, but this was no ordinary shopping centre. The Lingotto building in Via Nizza originally housed the old Fiat factory. If you access the roof not only is there an excellent art installation with classic works by the likes of Picasso and Manet located at the top of the building, but you can also see the old Fiat test track – a must see for any motorhead. 80 different models of car were produced there in its lifetime; each Fiat would be taken on to the roof and driven around the high-banked race track to make sure each car was up to standard. In fact if you own a Fiat that was made between 1923 and the 1970s chances are it has gone round this track.

For the finer shopper in you, have a look in ‘Eataly’. Located opposite the shopping centre, the high quality supermarket offers only the finest ingredients including the world famous Italian truffles. Offering the best food and drink you’re likely to find as well as the best environment in which to discover and expand your tastes, Eataly is definitely worth a look if not just to pick up a few local delicacies.

The high end supermarket was in fact such a hit that they opened up a store in New York in 2010 and have several stores in Tokyo also. It is as much a supermarket as it is a fascinating place just to see what’s on offer and maybe treat yourself to some of the finer things in life.

A must see spot during a trip to Turin has to be the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, located at the Castello di Rivoli. Open Tuesday to Friday, between 10am and 5pm, and on Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 7pm, the castle not only offers on a clear day one of the most spectacular views in Italy of the city and the Alps, but also the grandeur of the castle itself. Located in the Turin suburbs and easily reachable by bus, the castle houses some fantastic works of art – over 300 pieces in its 38 rooms, scaling 3 floors, the castle has one of the largest and most influential collections of contemporary art in Europe. As you visit each floor you are taken in by a new piece of fascinating work.

In the building next to the castle is perhaps the most striking art work. ‘Tulkus 1880 to 2018’ which features more than 1000 photographs of tulkus – men who in Buddhist culture are thought to be the reincarnation of a previous Buddhist master (a highly realised teacher or lama such as the Dalai Lama). The project aims to achieve a comprehensive survey of tulkus in all areas of the world where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced and it is a sight to behold as you walk along the very long corridor, which is so long you would have to phone someone at the other side of the room in order to have a conversation with them!

One of the most notable things about Turin is for a city that size it is incredibly quiet and peaceful. For every person in the city there is an estimated space of around 15 square meters of grass and free space. Even during the busiest hours it is still relatively easy to get around which was a pleasant surprise and made touring the city a much more enjoyable experience. To simply put it there is much more to Turin than a handful of sites. The entire city is immersed in a rich and historical culture, and it seems to have become a hub for contemporary works of art from across Europe, so when you plan your next holiday, don’t think Rome, Venice, Milan or Florence – give Turin a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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