Prada as Patron

Ca' Corner della Regina, Venice. Facade, May 2011. Courtesy Fondazione Prada. Photo Agostino Osio.


Viewers who are swayed by celebrity curator Germano Celant’s longtime credo-that postwar Italy had a fine-art ferment equal to its creative impetus in film, fashion and literature-will no doubt relish the selection of some 70 works from the Fondazione Prada collection (supplemented by a few museum loans) running June 4-Oct. 2 at the foundation’s new site at Ca’ Corner della Regina in Venice. One section, mounted by Tate Modern curator Nicholas Cullinan, represents Italian art from 1950-62, with numerous visually austere (not to say boring) works by the likes of Alberto Burri, Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the show also features Maurizio Cattelan’s 1997 taxidermied ostrich with its head buried in the floor, Anish Kapoor’s Void Field (1989) comprising 20 waist-high sandstone blocks, Charles Ray’s spiked Tub with Black Dye (1986), and signature works by Donald Judd, Frank Stella and Bruce Nauman.

Fun can even be found in Tom Friedman’s Nobody (2002), a life-size cardboard boy with his forehead pressed to the wall, and Jeff Koons’s porcelain Fait d’Hiver (1988)—a pig and several penguins regarding a voluptuous woman’s bust in fishnet top—juxtaposed with scores of 18th-century Meissen figurines (dogs, swans, roosters, elephants, winged horses, half-nude female flute players, etc.) from the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Sex and violence get their due in clips from films by American director Todd Solondz and claymation videos by Swedish-born Nathalie Djurberg. The works were chosen by critic and television writer Marco Giusti, who in the opening press conference stressed the way both artists build volatile erotic tension among characters confined to a single room.

Now directed by Celant, the Fondazione Prada, which was originated in 1993 by designer Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli, currently owns about 700 contemporary works and regularly commissions artists to execute “dream” projects—hence Carsten Höller’s nightclub installation Double Club (2008) mixing Western and Congolese cultures.

The organization also prides itself on collaborating with museums. This year, for example, the Qatar Museums Authority was invited to bring a 2010 work by Buthayna Ali—22 giant slingshots representing the 22 Arab states—to the Venice show. In addition, the Qatar group will join the foundation in sponsoring an international curatorial award exhibition.

The 18th-century palazzo that now houses the Fondazione Prada was built for the Corner family, which had produced a queen of Cyprus some 300 years earlier. Encompassing 65,000 square feet, the structure currently belongs to the Musei Civici di Venezia and will be rented to the foundation for the next six to 12 years. Meanwhile, Rem Koolhaas is designing a new building for the Prada art collection and fashion archive, to open in Milan in 2013.

Although Prada was not present at the May 31 press conference, Bertelli, her partner in the privately held firm estimated to be worth $9.5 billion, lamented that few other companies have stepped forward in this time of governmental cutbacks to assume the task of Renaissance-style arts patronage. He described the couple’s motivation as “pleasure.” The pair, he said, have more than enough daily problems in their business: “we do this for fun and joy.”