A Transformative Experience


At a time when fashion uses art to transform itself into high cultural statement, and art uses fashion to insert itself into the broader commercial world, the Prada Transformer in Seoul perfectly captures the convergence of the two. It is a tetrahedral event space, a cross-shaped gallery, a rectangular cinema or a “domestically scaled” circular fashion theater, depending on how four cranes rotate this 60-foot-high, 120-ton misshapen tent on its concrete base. Consisting of a polyurethane membrane stretched over steel scaffolding, the Transformer currently occupies the grounds of Gyeonghui Palace, where it opened with a long-traveling exhibition of Prada skirts titled “Waist Down” [Apr. 23-May 24]. As its architect, Rem Koolhaas, acknowledged with a smile at the opening party, the $10-million project is “not exactly beautiful.” This was a spot-on evaluation of a structure that houses things often seen as strange, whether works of art, haute couture or something in between. Neither teepee nor exhibition container, with rotating primary forms that recall Russian Constructivism, the Transformer places itself in the tradition of high modernism’s penchant for interdisciplinary practice.

The Transformer is the latest Prada endeavor undertaken by Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which has helped facilitate the fashion house’s own transformation into a cultural force. Miuccia Prada’s Milan-based foundation is known for commissioning large-scale artworks for its exhibition space, among other activities. With Koolhaas-designed Prada “epicenters” (rather than “stores”) where the sloping floor can be flipped and folded to create theater seating (New York) or the paved street continues into the store (Los Angeles), the company has long sought to create experiences beyond retail. The Transformer recalls last year’s appearances in Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York of the Zaha Hadid-designed exhibition pavilion for Chanel, which displayed art inspired by a Chanel handbag. The remainder of its global tour was cancelled after its third stop, New York, when the tanking economy made its aura of self-indulgence seem just too much.

Next up at the Transformer in Seoul, which is one of Prada’s strongest markets, is “Flesh, Mind & Soul,” a film program curated by director Alejandro González Iñárritu [June 26-July 12], followed by an exhibition of Nathalie Djurberg’s work [August-September] that was on view at the Fondazione Prada in spring 2008, as well as a Prada fashion show [dates to be announced].

Photo right: View of the Prada Transformer in Seoul. Photo left: The recent installation of Prada skirts, “Waist Down.”