Over the past 20 years, the Fondazione Prada has become the spearhead of an art that is fully engaged with its times, as stimulating and challenging as it is varied and enjoyable. Since the opening of its Milan flagship in 2015 – an extraordinary ensemble designed by architect Rem Koolhaas – the foundation has been able to organize ever more demanding and thought provoking exhibitions. For this very first issue of Numéro art, Miuccia Prada, who set up the foundation with her husband Patrizio Bertelli, explains the vision behind it.
Numéro art: how do you decide which artists, projects and commissions to show or take on at the foundation?
Miuccia Prada: Art for art’s sake doesn’t interest me. I’m much more interested in ideas, not only from artists , but also from scientists or film directors. In my opinion, people today – including artists sometimes – are no longer used To dealing with the urgency of ideas. Obviously you’ll say To me in reply that there are events like Documenta that bring together great artists and thinkers, and you’re right. On the other hand, and it is more important after all, art for me is still the best world in which to live – it’s a world that opens knowledge up to you, and allows you to make extraordinary encounters. I’ve always thought that in order To really know and challenge people, you have to work with them. That’s what we do at the foundation.
Is it true that you chose Rem Koolhaas as your architect because you’d been told he was “difficult”?
There is certain amount of truth in that. [laughs.] Originally we were looking for an architect who could come up with something completely different for our retail spaces. We asked a few people, but none of them mentioned rem. My husband and I looked at a huge number of books and we ended up coming across some of rem’s work. It was immediately obvious that he was very good. So I asked the people who’d been advising me why none of them had suggested him. “Because he’s so difficult!” was the reply. I said, “oh yes?”, and went to see him. And we’ve been working together ever since. His way of thinking is very close to ours.
What did you have in mind for the foundation’s buildings?
All that gave rise to long discussions, of course. Rem didn’t want to use the old industrial buildings that were already on the site. So my husband asked him, “do you really want to demolish the whole lot?” The site had such a strong aura and atmosphere. In the end rem decided to create a dialogue between the old and the new. The main idea was that you would enter the foundation as you enter a state of mind. To understand creation, you first have to understand thought, a way of thinking. Each of the spaces – and they’re all different – must allow you to enter into a state of mind, and must also be capable of welcoming in different states of mind, different artists, different filmmakers…
“When I like something, I say that it’s beautiful. It’s a simple word that can say a lot. Obviously the word is overused, just like the words “luxury” or “chic” in fashion circles.”
When you started taking an interest in art, how did you go about it?
Once my husband and i started, we took it very seriously. It was a long learning process. We read book after book after book. We went to meet artists. We went to the US, to Marfa and to the New Mexico desert to see Walter de Maria’s land-art piece the lightning field, etc. And then we became friends with many artists… what stayed with me from all that? The sophistication of thought. Learning to think in different ways. Getting into a relationship with art is like starting one with an extremely intelligent person: it opens up new horizons for you.
You spoke earlier of the world of contemporary art as a world of ideas, not beauty. Has beauty completely disappeared?
It’s a word I use often, like everybody. When I like something, I say that it’s beautiful. It’s a simple word that can say a lot. I prefer to keep to basic and essential ideas without pontificating too much on them. Obviously the word is overused, just like the words “luxury” or “chic” in fashion circles. There are words that are used so much nowadays that it’s become impossible to define them.