How Fondazione Prada is Cementing its Position in the Contemporary Art World
The Fondazione Prada exhibition spaces are a must-see – whether to visit the exhibitions, the contemporary art collection, the architectural design, or simply to enjoy a coffee at its Bar Luce.
With three permanent locations in Milan and Venice, Fondazione Prada has immersed itself into the contemporary art scene, becoming a prominent member of these cultural hubs in northern Italy.
A former gin distillery, a prominent landmark, and an 18th-century palazzo – Fondazione Prada does not fear a challenge, combining historical and functional architecture with contemporary art installations.
Naturally, with a long history of luxury fashion and accessory design, Fondazione Prada has creative minds at its helm when it comes to contemporary and modern art collection and exhibitions.
The foundation boasts a busy calendar of cultural events, from temporary exhibitions to film screenings to permanent installations.
Fondazione PRADA, Milano, Via Ripamonti - Largo Isarco area. Credit: DesignerToparchitect/Wikimedia Commons
HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION
Fondazione Prada was established in 1993 by Miuccia Prada, the youngest granddaughter of Mario Prada, the founder of the long-standing family-owned fashion house.
The luxury goods manufacturer and fashion house was first founded in 1913 in Milan, and since 1978 Miuccia Prada has been the head designer.
Along with her husband and business partner, Patrizio Bertelli, the couple has been devoted to the promotion of culture and the arts, evolving into the collection and exhibition of contemporary art in Milan.
Fondazione Prada has overseen the opening of three permanent locations, with two based in Milan and the third in Venice, as well as additional art installations and temporary shows.
The larger of the two spaces in Milan, located in Largo Isarco, has become a cultural hub, attracting a numerous and diverse public to visit the exhibitions and spaces; a vital and needed space of large dimensions to present contemporary artworks in the city.
“The Fondazione offers new opportunities to enlarge and enrich our processes of learning… Culture should help us with our everyday lives, and understand how we, and the world, are changing. This assumption will be key for the Fondazione’s future activities…" the foundation’s mission states.
"Art is the Fondazione’s main and given instrument of working and learning. A territory of freethinking in which established, indelible figures – as well as emerging approaches – are welcomed”.
Lost Love by Damien Hirst at Fondazione Prada (Milan). Credit: Sailko/Wikimedia Commons
OMA, INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTURAL FIRM
Located in a former gin distillery dating back to the 1910s, the Largo Isarco industrial complex in the south of Milan hosts the larger of the three Fondazione Prada exhibition spaces.
The restoration and construction work was carried out by the Dutch architectural firm OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), and more precisely led by architects Rem Koolhaas and Chris van Duijn.
First commissioned in 2008, the newly restored complex opened its doors to the public in 2015, with official completion three years later with the adjunct of the new Tower or Torre.
The tower hosts ten floors, six of which are exhibition spaces, with mainly permanent installations and pieces from the Fondazione Prada collection on display.
Fondazione. Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash
THE HAUNTED HOUSE
At the Largo Isarco complex, the museum and gallery spaces cover an area of 11,800sqm and in total, the Fondazione covers over 28,000sqm.
OMA restored the existing spaces and added three new builds, combining both past and present, a metaphor for the fashion house’s own history.
The three sections of the Fondazione include the Museum, or the Haunted House, the Cinema, and the Torre.
The Haunted House being one of the original buildings hosts a permanent installation by artist Robert Gober (born 1954) and two works by the late French artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010).
The particularity of this building is its exterior, which can be noted immediately as approaching the Fondazione; the walls are completely covered in gold leaf, or 200,000 pieces of gold leaf to be exact, weighing approximately 4kg.
The work took approximately three months to complete, emphasising an instant contrast between the three-storey building and its minimalist, industrial neighbours.
The cladding demonstrates how these older buildings and designs continue to retain a certain value, adding to the history of the territory, both in function and social influence.
Gold building at the Prada Fondazione, by OMA architect. Credit: Louis Charron/Unsplash
Fondazione Prada’s exhibitions and spaces are of the highest quality with attention to every detail, and as can be expected, becoming an instant Instagram-friendly location.
One of these hyper-photographed installations can be found on the top floor of the Torre with the work Upside Down Mushroom Room (2000) by Belgian artist Carsten Holler.
As part of the permanent group show, Atlas, Holler’s work is exactly as its title describes: a room filled with large upside-down mushrooms that spin.
A collaboration between Miuccia Prada and Italian art historian, critic and curator, Germano Celant, other artists as part of the Atlas show include Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Carla Accardi, Walter De Maria, and several other artists, ranging in installation, painting, and sculpture works from 1960 to 2016.
Bel Air Trilogy by Walter de Maria in Fondazione Prada, Milano. Credit: Samuele Sala Veni/Unsplash
TEMPORARY AND PERMANENT EXHIBITIONS
Temporary exhibitions since 2015 at the Largo Isarco space include Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943, Sanguine – Luc Tuymans On Baroque, Liu Ye: Storytelling, Useless Bodies? Elmgreen & Dragset, and the current exhibition titled Recycling Beauty.
To date, the Fondazione Prada site has hosted 30 exhibitions, as well as six permanent installations, including the fluorescent light fixtures by American artist Dan Flavin at Chiesa Rossa (1996), and Processo Grottesco (Grotesque Process) by Thomas Demand (2015), as well as several others.
The current exhibition Recycling Beauty investigates the re-use of Greek and Roman antiquities in a new context, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 17th and 18th centuries.
The exhibition will run until 27 February 2023.
BAR LUCE AND WES ANDERSON
Styled by the meticulous mind of American film director Wes Anderson, Bar Luce is located at the entrance of the Largo Isarco site in Milan.
With the wooden bar, pastel block colours, and symmetrical precision, Bar Luce recalls old-style Milan bars from the 1950s and 60s; a mixture between mid-century nostalgia and an aesthetically pleasing modern design.
Resembling a film set due to its perfected layout, Anderson notes, “I tried to make it a bar I would want to spend my own non-fictional afternoons in”.
Fondazione PRADA, Via Ripamonti - Largo Isarco area, Bar Luce, 50s lifestyle Milano design by Wes Anderson. Credit DesignerToparchitect Wikimedia Commons
The second Milan location is the Osservatorio which can be found in one of the city’s main historical landmarks, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, which stands next to the Duomo.
The smaller space located just above the gallery’s glass roof hosts temporary exhibitions of photography and visual languages and enjoys a unique point of view of Italy’s oldest active shopping gallery, having been designed in 1861 and completed in 1877.
FONDAZIONE PRADA IN VENICE
Located on Venice’s Grand Canal, Palazzo Ca’ Corner Della Regina has a long history with the baroque-style building being erected in 1724 yet the site on which it stands dates back to the 15th century.
Since 2011, this historical palazzo has housed the Venetian headquarters of the Fondazione Prada and to date has presented ten temporary exhibitions, with the most recent, Human Brains, in parallel to the dates of the 59th Venice Biennale Arte.
One can note the striking contrast between the exhibition spaces at the Largo Isarco complex and the 18th-century Venetian palazzo, yet each one reflects the city in which it finds itself and presents the artworks accordingly.
Detail from palazzo Ca' Corner della Regina on the Canal Grande in Venice. By architect Domenico Rossi/Wikimedia Commons
Cover Credit: Fondazione Prada, Milano, Italy. Credit: Gaetano Cessati/Unsplash
Writer | Glesni Trefor Williams
Glesni Trefor Williams is a Bologna-based art journalist/translator from North Wales, who focuses her writing on contemporary art and interlinked exhibition spaces. She has written for Lampoon, Spinosa Magazine, and is an arts contributor on BBC Wales radio. @glesniw