The idea of the Fondazione Prada in Milan is that the buildings and art can coexist in a mix of conservation and creation. A unique place and a must for anyone who loves contemporary art.
We only had a day and a half to spend in Milan, but I liked the city instantly. The sophisticated, sleek fashion, Aperol spritzes served with snacks in the afternoon, and narrow streets with people rushing home, black umbrellas out to defend themselves against the rainy October day. It was at the end of the second day we spent in Milan that we hailed a cab to the Fundazione Prada. Housed in a former distillery, the museums buildings are anything but expected, and when our guide on the Milan Food Tour told us that one of the buildings was painted entirely in gold, I knew it would be worth our taxi fare.
The taxi pulled up in front of the Fondazione Prada in the quickly darkening afternoon. It was only around 5pm, but it felt much later with the rain and the shorter autumn days. The museum’s name flitted across an electronic sign on the side of the building, so we knew we were at the right place. The Fondazione Prada is as much about the architecture of the re-imagined distillery as the art itself. The museum is comprised of seven of the original distillery buildings along with a newly constructed tower, cinema and podium. The idea is that the buildings can coexist in a mix of preservation and creation.
My favorite building in the museum was the Golden Tower. Impossible to miss from the street, this is a five story building painted entirely in gold. As soon as we walked inside, the factory feel was obvious. It was almost creepy in a haunted way, after years of lying empty, the darkened rooms were a bit too empty and gave the work of Louise Bourgeois an all too perfect setting. When the architects designed the galleries, they really wanted to play with the spatial variables. This was especially true in the enormous Giacometti Variations by artist John Baldessari. The towering, 15 foot tall figures were exhibited in a warehouse sized room, alone, in a row. If the sculptures were not, on their own, spectacular, the exhibition space made them so.
In another underground gallery we found the Processo Grottesco, which is part of the museum’s permanent collection. The Processo Grottesco (Grotesque Process) by artist Thomas Demand is a reproduction of a grotto on the island of Mallorca. After extensive research, the artist was able to recreate the Spanish grotto using 3D laser printers. The result is a dark, grey cave that left us imagining the artist pouring over photos and documents in an effort to make the reproduction as accurate as possible.
The temporary and permanent exhibitions were all excellent, but the thing that put the Fondazione Prada on our list of “must-sees” in Milan was Bar Luce. The museum bar/restaurant was located just near the entrance to the galleries and the decoration could only be described as “Italian hipster kitsch.” The walls were decorated in creams, pinks and greens, and in one corner stood a working juke box. At the bar a growing group of 30 somethings seemed to be enjoying an after work aperitif. We decided to order an aperol spritz and it came with loads of delicious little snacks. It felt like just the right end to our day at the museum.
If you are interested in modern art or architecture, you should definitely make a trip to the Fondazione Prada (which we later learned is not so terribly difficult to find from the subway stop!) The unique space and the world class art is well worth your trip off the beaten path, and if you have time, stop in for a drink at Bar Luce…it’s what the Italians are doing, after all! Ruskommended with 5 boquerones.