Longtime collaborators Rem Koolhaas and Miucci Prada rethink the museum with a new art complex planned near Milan. A temporary exhibition space opening in Seoul this Spring offers a preview of coming attractions

Text by Alissa Walker

For more than fifteen years, the world’s greatest artists, architects, designers, and filmmakers have been flocking to Milan at the behest of fashion house Prada. In 1993, creative director Miuccia Prada and CEO Patrizio Bertelli, both longtime art collectors, began mounting shows in warehouse spaces to bring the world’s most progressive creatives to the city’s doorstep. Since then, they have commissioned works from a roster of artists—Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, Dan Flavin, Tom Sachs, Laurie Anderson, Barry McGee—that would make a traditional museum curator drool. But no artist has been as intimately intertwined with the brand as architect Rem Koolhaas, whom Prada and Bertelli enlisted last year to design a new permanent space for the Fondazione Prada that will provide a home for Prada’s creative collaborators while redefining the roles of the patron, the art world, and the cultural institution.

Since 1999, Prada and Bertelli have worked closely with Koolhaas, his architectural firm OMA, and its affiliated think tank, AMO. In Koolhaas’s past commissions for Prada—including his Epicenter retail stores in New York and Beverly Hills, exhibitions like the skirt-focused “Waist Down,” and experimental runway showspaces—he has sought to blur the boundaries between architecture and art, store and gallery. According to Koolhaas, these are distinctions we don’t challenge often enough. “It is surprising that the enormous expansion of the art system has taken place in a reduced number of typologies for art’s display,” he writes in Unveiling the Prada Foundation, a book outlining the project that Prada released last fall. “It seems that the arts’ apotheosis is unfolding in an increasingly limited repertoire of spatial conditions: the gallery (white, abstract, and neutral), the industrial space (attractive because its predictable conditions do not challenge the artist’s intentions), the contemporary museum (a barely disguised version of the department store), and the purgatory of the arts fair.”

In the same book, Fondazione Prada director Germano Celant dubs the new complex a “force field” for art, architecture, philosophy, science, design, and cinema, where the structure itself will actually mediate the flow of ideas between disciplines. “The new Prada space will be a tool and a context for open, high-speed creativity,” he writes. ”The use of architectural connotations—ranging from historic ones to the most contemporary and dynamic—will allow the pluralities of artistic idioms to begin to intersect regardless of the medium.”

The Fondazione won’t open until 2012, but in the meantime, Koolhaas, his associate Kunlé Adeyemi, and design architect Alexander Reichert are bringing a smaller version of this immersive, architecturally mediated creative experience to South Korea via the Prada Transformer, a temporary exhibition space adjacent to Seoul’s sixteenth-century Kyeonghee Palace. Open from March to July of this year, the tetrahedron-shaped structure will be rotated by crane to offer four different configurations: a screening room, a fashion runway, a gallery, and an event space. Every architectural element will serve a different function depending on the building’s state: for example, a raised platform used as the floor for special events becomes a massive film projector when flipped at an angle. Here, rather symbolically, Koolhaas and Prada will seek to seize our shared cultural experience and turn it—literally—on its side.


Current exterior of the new Fondazione Prada complex

Rendering of the Prada Transformer

Diagram of the Prada Transformer in various states

Rendering of the future exterior of the Fondazione Prada

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