It’s not often that a private foundation opens its doors to their new exhibition space and it blinds you with its beauty. Fondazione Prada has somehow achieved this through a careful selection of space, architect, curatorial team, and lest we forget: art. Taking the 1910 industrial complex of former distillery Societa Italiana Spiriti, which comprised seven structures, Rem Koolhaas and his international partnership OMA have reformed and refashioned the existing buildings and built three new structures that reflect contemporary design while maintaining the traditional edifices of the distillery.
A four story building in the centre of the compound is clad entirely in carefully applied gold leaf; this isn’t coated, so the leaf will erode as rain and the natural elements hit it. This golden shield is expected to last perhaps a year, but one only has to look at the transitory nature of aluminium leaf in artist Shelagh Wakely’s Rainsquare (as installed at Camden Arts Centre, London, last summer) to see how very quickly it can be dispersed. Eventually the dark red colour beneath will be revealed, creating a matte facade against the shiny aluminium facing of the Podium (the adjacent permanent exhibition space). The podium is covered within and inside with what is essentially an aluminium foam, creating a bumpy permeable hard surface which reflects the shifting weather in a very Bilbaon way. The Podium houses Salvatore Settis’ Serial Classic, a loan exhibition of archaeological reconstructions and copies of ancient Classical Greek statuary. Settis states in the accompanying catalogue essay that: “the tension between the originals and copies is therefore presented as one of the main themes of the exhibition”. It is easy to take this statement and to apply it to the Fondazione Prada as a whole and it easily surpasses the exhibition in encapsulating the intent of this new space.
The piece de resistance is meant to be the marble sculpture of Penelope, dated c 450 BC, and on loan from the National Museum of Tehran. It is undeniably exquisite but walking through “An Introduction”, the curated selection of works from the Prada collection as selected by Germano Celant and Prada, it is the quadreria, a room filled floor to ceiling salon-style with works from the latter part of the 20th century onwards that truly captures the imagination. Alighiero Boetti, Lucio Fontana, Lynn Foulkes, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Mario Schifano, Frank Stella: these artists and their iconic works adorn the walls – almost as an afterthought, but there is nothing improvisational or accidental about this hang. The particularly obvious wire mesh backing on the walls reconfigures the work into a contemporary context, rather unlike the Barnett Newman Zip painting haphazardly placed on a small narrow stairwell against white and yellow flowery wallpaper. It is meant to allude to a domestic environment but it fails to, instead it seems out of place and out of context: which is difficult to achieve for a Newman.
Perhaps the most triumphant exhibition space is the tanks, the Trittico, a tripart space where the brandy and whiskey used to be stored. An Eva Hesse seems lost, a victim of the strict curatorial focus on objects which are of a cubic form, while the second adjoining tank forces you to step back: Damien Hirst’s Lost Love (2000) occupies the centre of the room, a slight humming from the large fish aquarium providing background noise. The work is poignant, a medical chair with stirrups and the traces of a female presence (jewellery on the side operating table), referencing the loss of life as small fish scurry by disrupting the objects inside. The third tank is occupied by Pino Pascali’s simple 1 metro cubo di terra (1967), installed on the wall it ruptures the fabric of the tank, creating a new dimension.
Miucci Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli have gone beyond simply creating an exhibition space to showcase their collection: it is a thoughtful curated presentation of the best of design, architecture, art, education, and humour: the Wes Andersen designed and commissioned bar adding a playful dimension and tying back the complex to its Milanese roots with its inspired 1950s design.
Fondazione Prada is now open, Largo Isarco 2, 20139 Milan.