- By Sophie Arni
The Prada Foundation has been active for two decades but never had a permanent venue in Milan before last May 2015. The building's design is a product of the genius architect Rem Koolhaas. Formerly a distillery dating back to the 1910s, the Milan outpost of the Prada Foundation is an interesting mix of gold-painted grey concrete walls and a lighthouse turned into an installation space. A mix between post-industrial and post-maritime, the grounds mix well with the modern and contemporary art exhibited.
The mission of the Foundation is not only to exhibit Prada's extensive modern and contemporary art collection in a shiny glass store-like complex. Their bigger mission is to, quoting from their Program handout, the question "what is a cultural institution for?" As their statement reads, 'culture should help us with our everyday lives, and understand how we, and the world, are changing'. The Foundation stands as being a welcoming, open, democratic space for the city of Milan. The 10 euros ticket fee was perhaps on the upper echelon side, but Prada certainly fulfills their socially-forward cultural goal much better than its rival luxury brand, Louis Vuitton. The Prada Foundation feels like a center for the arts: showing and exhibiting carefully selected, important artists for the development of contemporary art history. It does not present itself as a marketing skim for the Italian luxury powerhouse. First show up, Serial Classic: Multiplying Art in Greece and Rome on the Podium, running from May 9th to October 24th 2015.
This show discusses the reproducibility of Greek and Roman ancient sculptures. It breaks the myth of the perfect Ancient Greek ideal beauty and instead showcases how commerciality and reproducibility were relevant to their practices, well before Benjamin Walter coined these terms for the industrial era. The Greeks, and later the Romans strove and succeeded to shape the perfect human body, but the idea of the 'masterpiece', that each sculpture was perfectly inventive and unique in its own ways, is a misconception. As the wall text reads: "The notion of the "classical" tends to evoke the idea of the individual artistic creation: classical art is usually understood as supremely original". In fact, most sculptures were produced in series.
I found this exhibition really innovative. It is rare to find an exhibition that has a strong and thoroughly researched thesis in a contemporary art space. One can only applaud the work realized by curators Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola. It was also interesting to see some Ancient art in a contemporary museum setting. Most new museums are classified by genre and time period, but good art can be found in all eras. Why limit yourself to Modern or Contemporary Art? Often times the dialogues created by different art canons sums up to an unforgettable museum experience. As collector David Mugrabi said of his family art fortune: 'We don't limit ourselves to our genre. We can buy Warhols like Old Masters. Good art is good art.' As simplistic the concept might seem, it holds true. The Foundation has a total of 7 spaces for 7 exhibitions at the one time. This makes it a very relevant place for today's art goers' unquenched thirst for new curatorship and ever-changing installations.
The 'Haunted House', or the name given to the lighthouse-turned-exhibition-space is a wonderful venue. It shows permanent installations from Robert Gober and Louise Bourgeois tucked into a confined space above the ground. One has to go up many stairs to get to the Louise Bourgeois room, a much relevant move for her practice dealing with the intimacy of one's own room. Housed in the laboratory of the former industrial complex, the galleria Sud makes up for an interesting condensed platform to show such an extensive collection of modern and contemporary masterworks. We are often used to seeing Yves Klein or Jeff Koons dominating a whole wall of a white cube. Seldom do we appreciate their work in a 'salon' style viewing: it's again, an innovative move from the Prada Foundation curation team.
Another very interesting exhibition with a gorgeous body of work from the Collezione Prada explores "the ideas of the fragmented body" in the sculpture of Maurizio Cattelan, Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti and Pino Pascali and partial silhouettes of various painters such as Yves Klein and David Hockney. Curated by Nicholas Cullinan, I could listen to a non-imposing, discreet, minimal yet carefully-worded curator voice.
A few final remarks on the Prada Foundation. It doesn't disappoint, it perfectly sits in its zeitgeist, it's an example of a what a contemporary art foundation should be in 2015. A public, innovative, Avant-Garde place where eyes are surprised, where movement is fluid and learning is constant (and where Instagramming is made easy with free Wifi). And where coffee can be exchanged in the beautiful Bar Luce, designed by none other than the iconic film director Wes Anderson.