In proportion to its size, Turin has more collectors of contemporary art than Milan or even London. It also, and not coincidentally, has a great concentration of successful artists: Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Giulio Paolini, to mention only a few, who do not inhabit an artistic ghetto, but mingle in society. This direct contact with creativity, for which there is traditionally great respect in Italy, has certainly done a great deal to recruit followers.
This may all seem surprising in a town that is so reserved, so very "haut-bourgeois", but then Turin has a shorter artistic past than all other major Italian towns. Its eighteenth and nineteenth-century arcaded streets, handsome as they are, cannot rival the sheer history and aesthetic weight of Rome, Venice and Florence. Besides, Turin has always prided itself on being modern: the first in the process of industrialisation; home to the Fiat motor-car and designers such as Pininfarina and Ghia.
The six collectors whose choice of their own works goes on show this month at the Castello di Rivoli, Turin's Kunsthalle on the outskirts of the city, have all been influenced, directly or indirectly, by a number of key gallery owners of the Fifties and Sixties who connected the city with New York and the artistic centres of Europe.
One was the former banker, the wealthy Mario Tazzoli: his outstanding taste in art, old and new, is still mentioned with awe by Italians. He was the first in Europe to realise the importance of Francis Bacon and brought him to his gallery, the Galatea. Luigi Carluccio, an art critic much admired by David Sylvester, was director of one of the Venice Biennales and also co-owner of a gallery, La Bussola. The very young GianEnzo Sperone, later of the New York gallery, Sperone Westwater, was introducing Pop Art to Turin at the same time as Leo Castelli was making it famous in New York, while Luciano Pistoi brought Magritte and Léger to his gallery Notizie.
In the Sixties, Turin built itself one of the very few modern art museums in Italy, the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, but the influence and dynamism of its commercial gallery owners was far more influential than the public institution.
The gallery scene continues today. Its doyenne is the seventyish Christian Stein of Turin and Milan, with such artists as Jannis Kounellis and Fabro on her books. The more adventurous foreign dealers, like Nicholas Logsdail of London's Lisson Gallery, have also realised that there is rich fishing to be had in Turin. Patrizia Sandretto Rebaudengo, for example, has bought en bloc the biggest private collection of contemporary British art outside Britain from another Turinese collector.
Museums in Italy have no tradition of encouraging the private collector, but this is changing. Venice is trying to put together a museum of contemporary art with the help of collectors, and in Turin, Ida Gianelli, director of the Castello di Rivoli, has coaxed some of the city's publicity-shy collectors out of their apartments (16 February-21 April).
If one quality is to be singled out in this showing, then Arte Povera, a movement rooted in Turin, makes itself most strongly felt; not just in works by its exponents, but also in a tendency to choose the elegantly cerebral, whatever the affiliation or national origin of the artist. Ida Gianelli says of this exhibition, "It is an example of the cultural fabric of this town, something that made possible the birth and growth of the Castello di Rivoli. Of course, these are only fragments of the whole but they are concrete evidence of the work carried out by forces in whose shade we all grew up".
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Where is the best private collection of contemporary British art outside Britain? Answer: Turin'