I meet Farah coming out of Lodi metro station.
“Everybody was talking about it at the Venice Biennale,” she says adjusting her sunglasses. Prada, of course.
This self-assured art curator, a Canadian of Iranian descent, was as lost as I was in this wasteland of South Milan. Then, as we turn a corner, large billboard signs FONDAZIONE PRADA guide us alongside a railway track.
On first sight the building is unremarkable but inside the complex comes into its own. A juxtaposition of the old distillery warehouses from 1910 with newly built glass, white concrete and aluminium constructions.
The morning sun glints off a nine-storey tower covered in gold leaf – the Haunted House so-called because of the dilapidated state it was in before the Prada Foundation transformed it.
Farah meets up with a friend from the Biennale. I join the queue and, despite it being the opening weekend, I soon enter a series of galleries that serve as an introduction to Prada’s eclectic 20th and 21st century collections. Inside a large sprouting Potato I watch an animation by a young Swedish artist, Nathalie Djurberg. A wolf and young girl, in We Are Not Two, We Are One, struggle with the most basic of household chores. It is not the cramped kitchen that is the problem but that the wolf and girl share the same backside.
Deeper into the Potato I watch Once Removed On My Mother’s Side. A young girl massages the swelling toes of her obese mother.
Gross, Grimm, sinister tales.
I move into what could well be a car showroom except one car is covered in tar and feathers, another with a mosquito net and another has a chrome beam shot like an arrow through the windscreens.
A young woman inspects Sarah Lucas’s burnt out cars with as much reverence as a Rubens.
Concrete slabs partition off a long narrow warehouse in the gallery, In Part, allowing uninterrupted viewing of individual works. Some are familiar. Man Ray’s, Venus Restaure and Hockney’s Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes. There are several risqué works by William Copley, a late Surrealist and precursor to Pop Art including Untitled Yes/No.
Italian artists featured include Giulio Paolini. Two parts of Intervello, a sliced torso, ‘face’ or perhaps ‘back’ onto each other. Untitled (La Dolce Vita featuring Rene Magritte is by Francesco Vezzelo, a Milan based filmmaker and artist based. This space works well but if only the labels were not so minimal!
It was an inspired decision to choose replicas of classical sculpture for the opening temporary exhibition, Portable Classic. Light from large windows of the Pavilion fall on reclining Satyrs, a crouching Venus, lithe Olympic runners and muscular discus-throwers.
As if to remind us that this is a contemporary art space there is a gold painted Apollo reconstructed in 1991.
I have to be satisfied with this amount of gold. Tickets to access the works of Robert Gober and Louis Bourgeois in the gold leaf tower are at a premium.
As I leave I see Farah and her friend propping up the bar, no doubt catching up on Biennale gossip.
The FONDAZIONE PRADA will no doubt set the contemporary world alight and deservedly so but other contemporary art spaces in Milan should not be forgotten. The HangarBicocca gallery, in an equally unremarkable part of the city but to the north, shows contemporary art in a former Pirelli industrial complex. Anselm Kiefer’s Seven Heavenly Palaces, the main permanent exhibit, was made specifically for the opening of this gallery in 2004.The work takes its name from a Hebrew tract the Sefer Hechalot or Book of Palaces, inviting us to reintepret the ruins of the West after World War Two and from a future perspective.
These mystical, tottering towers of reinforced concrete, both tantalize and mesmerize. No less captivating is the temporary exhibition of work by Juan Munoz. Men, with Asian features, in intimate conversation with each other.
Others are suspended from the iron rafters.
We, as visitors, are on the outside, confronted with the ‘other.’
I travel back to central Milan and revisit an old friend, The Fourth Estate of striking workers by Giuseppe Pelliza da Volipedo in the Museo del Novecento. I take a tour of work in the Galleria D’Italia, in a converted bank and finish the day by rushing to the Castello Sforzesco to see Michelangelo’s Pieta Rondanini Madonna.
The sculpture, newly displayed in a former hospital for sick soldiers, is created from one piece of marble. The Madonna is thread like, supporting her dead son. It seems a fitting way to end my first day in Italy. That and a drink of chilled Prosecco.