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Luci D'Artista

Location: Turin ( Torino ), North West Italy

Artists: Mario Airo, Vasco Are, Enrica Borghi, Daniel Buren, Francesco Casorati, Richi Ferrero, Carmelo Gianello, Jenny Holzer, Rebecca Horn, Joseph Kosuth, Emanuele Luzzati, Luigi Mainolfi, Nicola de Maria, Mario Merz, Mario Molinari, Luigi Nervo, Domenico Luca Pannoli, Giulio Paolini, Enrico de Paris, Luigi Stoisa, Francesco Tabusso, Jan Vercruysse, Gilberto Zorio


Between the beginning of November and the end of January each year, the avenues and squares of Turin are decorated with lights provided by the City Council. They are not Christmas illuminations of the conventional kind, however, but a collection of specially commissioned designs by contemporary artists.

In 1998 fourteen Italian artists were commissioned to make light installations which still form the core of the Luci d’Artista collection. These include star constellations, planetary systems and modified neo-Pop street signs in coloured lights, neon mechanical birds and human figures, and large, minimal decorative forms made from recycled plastic bottles.

One or two new commissions are added each year, including international artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Rebecca Horn, and Jan Vercruysse whose work is also on show in the permanent collection of Turin's Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art. Turin-based artists have also been commissioned, some of whom have an equally international profile - notably Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini and Gilberto Zorio.

Not all works in the collection are shown every year, and some are re-located. During 2003/4 a number of the commissions were restored and/or extensively renewed, for example, more blue neon 'halos' were added to Rebecca Horn's Small Blue Spirits installation, and Joseph Kosuth supervised the re-location of his Double Passage commission. The works by Ferrero, Merz and Zorio remain in situ throughout the year. In 2006 Turin will host the Winter Olympics. From 9 December - 9 January 2006/7 the Luci d’Artista project will extend to towns and villages in the vicinity of the Olympics as well as in the city.

Since 2001-2 the Luci d’Artista project has been run in parallel with a separate but linked event (its "daytime supplement") called ManifesTO, a series of 40-50 large format (3 x 6m) poster works specially created by contemporary artists, and funded by the City of Turin and GAM, Turin's Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. Displayed on non-commercial billboard sites around the city, the commissioned artists are selected by two associations of Turin galleries specialising in modern and contemporary art. Like the Luci d’Artista, the ManifesTO commissions are re-displayed in different locations each year, and include artists based outside Italy, such as the British artists Adam Chodzko and Jessica Craig-Martin. For 2004/5 44 posters are displayed in one place, around the Piazza San Carlo, at present a major building site.

Around the annual Luci d’Artista and ManifesTO displays a significant number of parallel events have gradually accumulated, including Artissima - an international art fair devoted to contemporary art, held at the beginning of November - and special or significant exhibitions at all public and private galleries. Since 2002-3 this extensive annual programme has been accorded the umbrella title Torino Contemporanea - Luce e arte (Contemporary Turin - Light and art).


For Christmas 1997, the artist and scenographer Emanuele Luzzati was commissioned to create a huge illuminated presepe (Nativity crib) for one of the main piazzas in the centre of Turin. The positive impact of this temporary work on the atmosphere of the city centre was such that the deputy Mayor of Turin and his colleagues from the authority's arts and administration departments had the idea of expanding this concept.

The Luci d’Artista project is currently curated by Ida Gianelli (Director of the Castello di Rivoli Museum), Pier Giovanni Castagnoli and Riccardo Passoni (Director and Assistant Director of GAM, Turin's civic gallery of modern and contemporary art - considered to be the second most important gallery of its kind in Italy). The project is managed by the City of Turin's Council of Culture.

The cost of the current year's Luci d’Artista project is approximately 1.200.000 Euros (plus communication costs), and it is funded by the City of Turin in association with the Regione Piemonte (Piedmont regional authority), the Turin Chamber of Commerce, and the Turin-based banking institutions the CRT Foundation and the Compagnia di San Paolo. Italgas and other companies are technical sponsors of the project (Italgas, for example, was responsible for the production of Jenny Holzer's commission).


The primary objectives behind the Luci d’Artista project are:

  • to create an occasion where contemporary art meets the general public: The familiar frame of reference of municipal Christmas illuminations provides an effective vehicle for the project's main objective of fostering "the relationship between contemporary art and the public at large".
  • to contribute significantly to the development of Turin as a major centre for contemporary art: During the last century Turin established itself as a centre for car production and other, now declining, heavy industries. Rather as Glasgow has done, and Liverpool is in the course of doing, Turin in recent years is energetically re-inventing itself as a centre for the creative industries and cultural tourism. During the twentieth century the city has been an important centre of design and applied art, and the Arte Povera movement originated there during the 1960s. Currently Turin is engaged upon confirming and developing its already significant role as a centre for contemporary art.

Artists' Commissions

The 14 works originally commissioned for the project in 1998/9 were Christmas Sails by Vasco Are, Snowballs by Enrica Borghi, Flight by Francesco Casorati, Lucedotto by Richi Ferrero, Planetario by Carmelo Giamello, Street of the Magi by Emanuele Luzzati, Lui and the art of going to the woods (a fable by popular Turin-based children's writer Guido Quarzo) by Luigi Mainolfi, Concerto of Words by Mario Molinari, Solar Wind by Luigi Nervo, Love doesn't make a noise by Domenico Luca Pannoli, Palomar by Giulio Paolini, Flag by Enrico de Paris, Noi (Us) by Luigi Stoisa, and The Dance of Life by Francesco Tabusso.

The works commissioned since 1999 are:

Cosmometrie by Mario Airo, 2002

42 16 th century drawings by Giordano Bruno are projected from above like a carpet across a pedestrian piazza.

Flying Carpet by Daniel Buren (France), 2000

Minimal but effective suspended 'carpet' of hundreds of regularly placed small illuminated azure cubes.

Xenon for Torino by Jenny Holzer (USA), 2003

Projections of characteristic aphoristic texts by this well known American artist scroll over the façade of the Palazzo Carignano.

Small Blue Spirits by Rebecca Horn (Germany), 1999

An accumulation of swaying cobalt blue circles hover around the hilltop Cappuccini church.

Double Passage by Joseph Kosuth (USA), 2001

Two sentences by Italo Calvino and Nietzsche (writers with a special attachments to Turin ) run in neon across the main bridge over the River Po.

Kingdom of Flowers: Cosmic Nest of All Souls by Nicola de Maria, 2004

Lamps in the Piazza Carlina are transformed into brightly coloured 'nests' of flowers.

Flight of Numbers by Mario Merz, 2000

A Fibonacci sequence of Illuminated numbers ascends the landmark Mole Antonelliana tower.

Luminous Fountains by Jan Vercruysse (Belgium), 2002

Six tanks in the centre of a public square contain steaming hot water, creating illuminated atmospheric mists of different colours through which people can walk.

Fountain Wheel of Light by Gilberto Zorio (Italy), 1999

A large rotating star incorporating mirrors, reflecting the water of the nearby river.

Key Issues

  • Selection of artists

    The first commissions conformed essentially to the traditional model of urban Christmas lights, suspended above busy shopping streets. More recent commissions, however, have intentionally departed from seasonal connotations. The original 14 commissions were selected competitively. The subsequent commissions have been selected by invitation of the organisers. No detailed briefs are given to these artists, apart from size/space restrictions of the given specific site. The artists include painters, conceptual and installation artists, and not all them have experience of creating light works. Trying to satisfy the artist's original idea can sometimes be the most challenging aspect of the project.

  • Opportunities for Younger Artists

    Turin promotes itself as "an international city for young people", and the original 1998 Luci d’Artista commissions were selected from a competition that was part of BIG Torino, a major international review of emerging art. Opportunities for younger artists (exhibitions, residencies, and artists' interventions in Turin museums of ancient art and archaeology) have since been built into the Luci d’Artista and ManifesTO projects, and the other Torino Contemporanea events.

  • Installation/Storage/Maintenance

    The project relies on the co-operation of the Teatro Regio (municipal theatre), whose stage design workshop is responsible for making and installing the lights, and AEM (municipal lighting agency) for the technical and constructional realisation of the commissions. Between February and October the works are stored in the warehouses of the City Council and civic museums. Great attention is paid to security when the works are installed, and there are no problems with vandalism. However, the maintenance of the lights and the resolution of technical problems has proved demanding.


Website for information about Torino Contemporanea/Luci d’Artista: www.torinoartecontemporanea.it

For general information about past and forthcoming programme, email: [email protected]

For more detailed enquiries about the Luci d’Artista project, email: [email protected]

© Copyright David Briers, 2004