Base Camp Prada


Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

Bet­ter known as Rem, he has been pre­dis­posed ever since to find the least con­ven­tional yet most in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to ar­chi­tec­tural sce­nar­ios pre­sented by his clients. Kool­haas and his com­pany, OMA, have made a prac­tice of bring­ing the asym­met­ri­cal and un­fa­mil­iar as a kind of “house cool” to an eclec­tic port­fo­lio of projects—such as the CCTV Head­quar­ters in Bei­jing, the Casa da Música in Porto, Por­tu­gal, and a va­ri­ety of in­trigu­ing en­deav­ours for lux­ury la­bels. Kool­haas has col­lab­o­rated with Ital­ian brand Prada for 15 years on fash­ion bou­tiques, art spa­ces, pop-up ex­hi­bi­tion struc­tures and, most re­cently, the Fon­dazione Prada, newly opened in south­ern Mi­lan.

The Fon­dazione was cre­ated in 1993 as an out­post to an­a­lyse the present through the stag­ing of con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tions as well as those fo­cus­ing on ar­chi­tec­ture, cin­ema and phi­los­o­phy. It’s cul­ture as learn­ing, an ever-evolv­ing in­tel­lec­tual pur­suit. That di­a­logue is driven by the re­spec­tive cu­ra­to­rial de­part­ments of the Fon­dazione, a lofty group who call them­selves the Thought Coun­cil. Mi­uc­cia Prada and her hus­band, Pa­trizio Bertelli, are its pres­i­dents—there’s even a “sci­en­tific su­per­in­ten­dent”, Ger­mano Ce­lant.

But there are no fash­ion po­lice here. In fact, there’s no fash­ion at all. The Fon­dazione is kept fiercely sep­a­rate at Mi­uc­cia’s be­hest. There’s no skein of fab­ric nor any textile yarn to be found at Largo Isarco, a sprawl­ing waste­land betwixt the rail­way tracks and the soul­less tower blocks of this glam­our­less “gray­bour­hood” in Mi­lan.

Mrs Prada, as she’s known by her peo­ple, is noth­ing if not vi­sion­ary. She wanted to open her artis­tic and cul­tural Fon­dazione in dif­fer­ent cities, spread­ing her gospel glob­ally. But Mr Prada talked her out of it. Given that they owned the for­mer dis­tillery from the early 20th cen­tury, they de­cided to


start on their own doorstep. Kool­haas wasn’t im­me­di­ately in favour of the idea, sug­gest­ing that the in­dus­trial-to-gallery/ex­hi­bi­tion con­cept was hardly new or chal­leng­ing. (He’s re­cently per­formed a sim­i­lar stunt at the Garage Con­tem­po­rary Mu­seum of Art in Moscow for Rus­sian bil­lion­airess Dasha Zhukova, to stun­ning ef­fect.) So the Pradas told him he could knock it down and start all over again, should he feel so in­clined.

Kool­haas did what Kool­haas does: he took the route of great­est re­sis­tance and com­plex­ity, a mid­way point of preser­va­tion and cre­ation. The space com­bines seven ex­ist­ing build­ings with three new struc­tures: Podium, Cin­ema and Torre. Through an ex­ag­ger­ated, de­lib­er­ate tech­ni­cal mash-up, Kool­haas cre­ated a 205,000sqft cam­pus (or mini-city) that greets you in all its gauze and gloss gal­li­maufry, like a two-fin­gered topol­ogy of Koolsville.

The en­tire Rem reper­toire is rolled into one mass of con­trast and op­po­si­tions, new and old, hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal, nar­row and wide, squared and cir­cled, ex­pan­sive and suf­fo­cat­ing. He ex­plains, “By in­tro­duc­ing so many spa­tial vari­ables, the com­plex­ity of the ar­chi­tec­ture will pro­mote an un­sta­ble, open pro­gram­ming, where art and ar­chi­tec­ture will ben­e­fit from each other’s chal­lenges.”

Kool­haas ex­plains the art/mu­seum de­bate as well: “It is sur­pris­ing that the enor­mous ex­pan­sion of the art sys­tem has taken place in a re­duced num­ber of ty­polo­gies for art’s dis­play. To ap­par­ently ev­ery­body’s sat­is­fac­tion, the aban­doned in­dus­trial space has be­come art’s de­fault pref­er­ence— at­trac­tive be­cause its pre­dictable con­di­tions do not chal­lenge the artist’s in­ten­tions— en­livened oc­ca­sion­ally with ex­cep­tional ar­chi­tec­tural ges­tures,” he says.

None are more vis­i­ble than the four­storey tower that gal­vanises the cen­tre of the brood­ing space, rubbed with gold leaf redo­lent of Re­nais­sance tech­nique and ris­ing from the com­pound like salu­bri­ous sal­va­tion. But even that’s not what it seems—move closer and spot the cracks. What looks like up­scale wealth is also lux­ury af­front. The struc­ture is called Haunted House and is eerily remis­cent of a sep­a­rate light: the iconic Ben­son & Hedges cig­a­rette ad­ver­tise­ments from the 1970s and ’80s, in which the golden packet func­tioned as part of the Egyp­tian pyra­mids and other ar­chi­tec­tural sce­nar­ios. But once in­side the “packet”, its big win­dows light up the space well and the se­quence of sin­gle rooms pre­seves an in­ti­mate scale. The se­cluded en­vi­ron­ments host a per­ma­nent in­stal­la­tion con­ceived by Robert Gover and two works by Louise Bour­geois.

There’s irony in Prada’s bil­lion-dol­lar size and global in­flu­ence. Mi­uc­cia and Rem can seem punk­ish, Sex Pis­tols-es­que, in­tent on bash­ing up the amour­pro­pre of art’s hi­er­achi­cal and ho­moge­nous white space—smash­ing its pedestals, van­dals ran­sack­ing the doors of the con­ven­tional and emerg­ing like tri­umphant lib­er­a­tors in a more se­duc­tive world of in­de­pen­dent thought. Ideas are their drugs and “awe-thor­ity” the aes­thetic af­ter­math.

It’s all part and par­cel of the Fon­dazione fris­son. Not im­me­di­ately invit­ing as a place, the struc­ture has iso­lat­ing, sin­is­ter, al­most vi­o­lent ten­den­cies, com­pounded by the in­sti­tu­tion­alised feel­ing of the com­plex, as though sub­ver­sive trans-hu­man ex­per­i­ments are tak­ing place within—and in­evitably we’re next. By way of con­trast, it’s also one big aes­thetic ad­ven­ture­land. Stand­ing amid the mash-up, which can also feel like mu­ti­ple film sets, one’s spoiled for choice on the mise-en-scene with which to in­ter­act.

Bar Luce is US film di­rec­tor Wes An­der­son’s shrine to Mi­lanese cafes of the 1950s and ’60s. Its Formica fur­ni­ture, ve­neered wood pan­els and ter­razzo floor pay faith­ful homage. An­der­son likes it, too. “While I do think it would make a good movie set, it would be an even bet­ter place to write a movie.”

And then there’s the art. See any one of the seven ex­hi­bi­tions: Se­rial Clas­sic shines a light on clas­si­cal sculp­ture tak­ing aim at no­tions of orig­i­nal­ity and im­i­ta­tion in late Repub­li­can Ro­man cul­ture. To our sur­prise, the Ro­mans were mass-pro­duc­ing and re­pro­duc­ing


the Greeks faster than you could say Damien Hirst. Dis­cobo­lus, the shock­ing and supremely ath­letic “formalde­hyde shark” of his time, has no orig­i­nal. So, too, Crouch­ing Venus, de­spite re­peated at­tempts to re­lo­cate the It boy and girl of their hal­cyon day.

The Sud gallery and part of the De­pos­ito, an im­pos­ing ware­house on the com­pound’s west edge, is show­ing work from the Collezione Prada un­til Jan­uary 2016. More than 70 pieces, pri­vately ac­quired by the Pradas, range from Neo-dada to min­i­mal art. There are pieces from Wal­ter De Maria, Yves Klein and Don­ald Judd, as well as from con­tem­po­rary artists in­clud­ing Jeff Koons and Ger­hard Richter. There’s also a se­ries of “artists’ cars”, re­alised by Carsten Höller and Sarah Lu­cas.

The Cin­ema space is host­ing a Ro­man Polan­ski pro­ject (another Mrs Prada col­lab­o­ra­tor) in which the di­rec­tor’s films are re­traced by analysing those that have most in­flu­enced him; Or­son Welles’ Citizen Kane, David Lean’s Great Ex­pec­ta­tions and Fed­erico Fellini’s 8 ½ among them.

The Cis­terna, a pre-ex­ist­ing struc­ture, is host­ing Trit­tico. A Thought Coun­cil cre­ation, the dis­play jux­ta­poses three works on a ro­ta­tional ba­sis, em­pha­sis­ing cross- ref­er­ences—in this case, a cube. We see Eva Hesse’s Case II, Damien Hirst’s Lost Love and Pino Pas­cali’s 1 Metro Cubo di Terra.

There’s no short­age of art and in­ter­est in this dis­tillery of dis­lo­ca­tion, this in­tri­cate com­plex of Kool. Grab those wooden wheels and get on your bike.


pin­ball wiz­ard Clock­wise from left: Film di­rec­tor Wes An­der­son’s Bar Luce; the goldtinged Haunted House; Dis­cobo­lus, the It boy of old

open, shut From left: View of the per­ma­nent in­stal­la­tion Cor­ner Door and Door­frame by Robert Gober; Damien Hirst’s Lost Love is part of the Trit­tico dis­play

rock the cra­dle In­side the Haunted House is this in­stal­la­tion by Robert Gober

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