Prada gallery brings artistic spirit to Milan's industrial centre

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2014, 1:20pm

It was once home to a distillery in the industrial heart of Milan. But a sprawling warehouse that for decades sat crumbling into disrepair, the paint peeling and the windows boarded up, is to be transformed into the city's newest and largest contemporary art gallery.

The ambitious project is the vision of the Fondazione Prada, the art organisation set up by fashion designer Miuccia Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, in 1993.

While the foundation has championed numerous arts projects over the past two decades, including Carsten Höller's Double Club installation, a pop-up club and restaurant in Islington, London, the gallery will be its first permanent home accessible to the public.

Other notable projects backed by the foundation, which operates independently from the commercial side of the Prada fashion brand, include works by Anish Kapoor, director and artist Sam Taylor-Wood, and Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen.

"This new opening is an act of responsibility towards present times," says Miuccia Prada. "Fondazione Prada will not be a museum, but rather the continuation of an intellectual process founded on the exploration of doubt and on extensive research."

The foundation's expansive arts and exhibition space is to be designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, blending the building's original industrial character with extensions, including an eight-storey tower which they hope will become "a new landmark in Milan's urban landscape".

The 10 buildings that will be gallery spaces for the Fondazione Prada's contemporary art collection, as well as a rolling series of specially commissioned exhibitions, include a cinema, a library and other facilities. At the heart of the compound will sit the Haunted House, an intimate space which will house site-specific installations conceived by international artists.

Speaking about his complex design, Koolhaas says: "The fondazione is [neither] a preservation project nor a new architecture. Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction - offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others."

Astrid Welter, project director of Fondazione Prada, describes the project as a pivotal moment in the organisation's history.

"This is our transformation, our phase two of the foundation. We have already become a platform for art exhibitions and other disciplines such as architecture, cinema and philosophy, and the new exhibition site in Milan will allow us to amplify all the activity which we have done so far on a grander scale," she says.

Welter says the foundation is refraining from calling the expansive exhibition space a museum in order to emphasise it is open to all cultural projects and art forms. She also acknowledges that, at a time when Italy's public art galleries and museums suffer from a lack of investment, institutions such as the Fondazione Prada have to carry the arts mantle.

"Private arts organisations are filling a gap which the public arts organisations cannot," she says. "Milan does not have a public museum for contemporary art and we believe the Fondazione Prada's exhibition space will be a really interesting, thought-provoking addition to the cultural discourse."

Massimiliano Tonelli, editor of Italian arts magazine Artribune, says Milan has failed to establish a connection between contemporary art and the other cultural fields of design and fashion that put the city on the map internationally. "Incredible as it may sound, Milan doesn't have a proper contemporary art museum, even if there are multiple institutions working in the field, both public and private. So, I think that a new institutional venue, designed by a great architect, could be really important for Milan's museum landscape."

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