Zhanar will come up with clever text or Karina... Definitely not Darina
Fondazione Prada
A space for
non-obvious
choices
Interview with Astrid WELTER,
Director of Project Coordination

Astrid Welter
FONDAZIONE PRADA IS ONE OF THE MOST INNOVATIVE AND STRONGEST ART INSTITUTIONS TODAY. SINCE ITS ESTABLISHMENT 23 YEARS AGO, FONDAZIONE HAS BEEN PROCLAIMING AN UNUSUAL APPROACH TO ART AND CULTURE. ASTRID WELTER, DIRECTOR OF PROJECT COORDINATION FOR 20 YEARS AT FONDAZIONE, SHARED HER THOUGHTS WITH ÉTAGE ON THE ARCHITECTURAL CONCEPTS OF THE VENUE, INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACHES TO THE SHOWS AND FUTURE PLANS IN MILAN.
Сould you elaborate on the main aim of the Fondazione and how did the idea of cultural philanthropy come about?

– About 23 years ago, when we were founded, there were no foundations of the sort in Milan, not yet the Trussardi foundation or Hangar Bicocca. When Fondazione Prada was set up in 1993, there were no private spaces for culture in Milan. So, when Mrs Prada and Mr Bertelli decided to do it, it was a very instinctive and personal decision. They did it spontaneously. And for some reason there were friends of artists in Milan, who knew about some renovated old warehouses converted into beautiful spaces that would be able to host big scale sculptures. And this was one of the ideas: to start using warehouse spaces for installation art. Talking about the beginnings of Fondazione Prada, they immediately set up an independent little team, which was instantly followed by important artists, historians. They immediately understood that Foundation has to be separate from the business of Prada or from the everyday corporate industry. Fondazione also had to have a very solid scientific basis. So, from the beginning the shows were researched in depth, and publishing activity existed right from the beginning as well. We had the desire to put up and make our own independent cultural entity.

Do you think that contemporary art should be understandable and well accessible?

– Yes, we do think so, indeed. If you come by on the weekend or today, on this grey Monday, we intend Fondazione to be open for everyone. We think that culture is very important for everyone's life. We actually think that everything we see and do is not only art, but also culture. We don't only talk about visual arts. We don't think that it is something egalitarian. We do not at all intend to be a closed kingdom of people of the art world. We think that everyone should be invited to come and participate. Fondazione is not at all meant to be for an elite of rich, or especially culturally knowledgeable persons.

What do you think is the best way to discover new contemporary art? Do you have educational programs?

– We have an impression that people are quite interested to come to cultural offers. It depends a little on the context, but some people, based on their education maybe, think that they are unable to understand contemporary art. On the other hand, we live in Milan, and it is a very active city, it has a very hungry for cultural proposals audience. And we see now that having opened a new space that attracted a lot of attention, there are a lot of people coming who wouldn't necessarily go to art or contemporary art spaces before. We don't usually write big explanations for the works on the walls, but we invest a lot in making dialogue with people. And if the assistants see that someone is wondering, they try to be active and communicate with them. We think this is better than making wall texts.
"FONDAZIONE IS
NOT AT ALL
MEANT
TO BE FOR AN
ELITE OF RICH,
OR ESPECIALLY
CULTURALLY
KNOWLEDGEABLE"

"FONDAZIONE IS
NOT AT ALL
MEANT
TO BE FOR AN
ELITE OF RICH,
OR ESPECIALLY
CULTURALLY
KNOWLEDGEABLE"

Fondazione Prada, Milan
Complex of buildings conceived by OMA Ltd by Rem Koolhaas and Chris van Duijn Project architecht Federico Pompignoli
Fondazione campus was designed by Rem Koolhaas, an architect from a Rotterdam based firm called OMA. What is the historical context for this place?

– It was an industrial compound that from 1910 onwards worked as a distillery. Over the decades more and more big or small buildings were added, like chemical laboratory for the production of alcohol, brewing silos and the warehouses. And then it became a facility for warehouses and transport for 3 or 4 decades. But originally it was a distillery, and you can actually see it in the buildings. We are in an area in the south of Milan not far from the city center. This whole territory was industrial. Koolhaas described his project as being about the coexistence of preserved industry buildings and new spaces.

Was the main purpose to preserve the heritage or was it the new ideas of Mr Bertelli and Mrs Prada?

– The area could have been destroyed and rebuilt; the buildings were not under protection. Mr Bertelli and Mrs Prada left it to the architect, Mr Koolhaas, to make a decision. He was not obliged to keep it, but he decided to. He contrasted the existing industrial architecture with other new buildings. Koolhaas wanted to examine the idea of converting the factories into new spaces, he was looking for different typologies. This is why his new buildings are very strong in terms of concept, like the podium on the ground floor, or the Tower that is now nearly finished, where every floor will be one meter taller than the previous. He kept all the existing structures except for one building that he demolished in order to balance the variety of different typologies and spaces.
Fondazione Prada, Milan
Complex of buildings conceived by OMA Ltd
by Rem Koolhaas and Chris van Duijn Project architecht Federico Pompignoli
If you could describe Fondazione Prada with one or two words, what would they be?

– Fondazione Prada is not only a place, but a cultural project. Throughout twenty years it has represented a vision of how important the culture is. Of course, it is a private initiative, which tries to make a contribution, in case of Milan – actually filling a gap. Because Milan, – although one of the richest cities that is very creative with architecture, design, fashion, advertising and publishing, – had the municipality that failed in the past 15-20 years to create a bigger space for contemporary art. That is why private initiatives are more important, because they are offering something that public funding really cannot. In any case, I think that Fondzione Prada is especially interesting because it came before the other ones, it started with the brave decisions and courage, and it brought big names of international artists to Italy. We had a plan to have a good resonance from the city and Italy, but we also became attractive to international art lovers who are coming now to see Fondazione Prada.
Let's talk about your relationship with Mrs Prada and Mr Bertelli. We know that you have answered this question a lot, but it is very interesting.

– I will describe it a little bit, although it is really difficult. Mr Bertelli and Mrs Prada had both initiated Fondazione Prada and now are overseeing it. In the past years the projects was followed more by Mrs Prada for a number of reasons. Mrs Prada is actively participating in many meetings. Both, Mr Bertelli and Mrs Prada closely followed the architectural concept development. Mrs Prada is especially present in all the work processes. It is important to remember that she is a very active president, not just approving decisions. She is active in the process of looking for the meaning of what we are doing.

How did you start working with Fondazione Prada?

– I have a degree in Art History. I started in Fondazione Prada in 1997, and had a couple of years of experience before, but it was a happy coincidence. My other colleagues have been working for a long time like me, it was very interesting. Mr Bertelli and Mrs Prada probably did not foresee back in 1993 that they would have such a big and long project. The process of growing was very interesting to me and my colleagues. There were always many reasons to stay with Fondazione, because at some point we decided to build with Rem Koolhaas and then we did many more interesting projects.

What was your first curatorial project, and looking back at it, what would you change about it?

– I'm not a curator, I'm coordinating activities. My first project was in 1997 – the Dan Flavin Church. Dan Flavin, an American minimalist had conceived an artwork for the church in the suburbs of Milan, which so happened to be his last artwork, because he died at the end of the project. I loved that project, because I was learning to do something that would have public importance, in a cultural institution. Permanently installing such a wonderful piece in a church in quite a difficult area of Milan was really wonderful, and still I think it was a very meaningful project for Fondazione Prada.
Exhibition "Give Me Yesterday" Fondazione Prada Osservatorio
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti
Courtesy Fondazione Prada
How do you select artists? How do you decide which artist is a fit for Fondazione Prada?

– It's not this straight forward. We always worked with the number of artists; we were looking for artists, or better to say, the artists were looking for us, knowing that we are the foundation that would enable them to create more. Fondazione Prada never would go to the gallery and ask to be put in contact with a certain artist or purchase a work, it was the other way around. Artists, who knew what kind of work we were doing would make a proposal, especially with the difficult projects. For example, Mariko Mori wanted to do the Dream Temple, but 20 years ago it was not easy for artists to do bigger projects, because the gallery systems were different. But we had bigger spaces and allowed artists to work on a bigger scale. So, it was not very often that we were looking for a certain kind of artists. We are not a space for obvious choices.

You have worked with so many artists: Francesco Vezzoli in 2004 and 2012, Steve Mc Queen, Natalie Djurberg; could you talk about some remarkable projects that you still enjoy?

– One of my favorite projects is the Double Clun in London with Carsten Holler. It was exceptional. He works a lot with perception of visitor in the space. So, he had the idea to create a temporary situation, where Western and Congolese cultures would meet – through the nightclub culture. And we opened this Western-Congolese nightclub, which was a disco bar and a restaurant, so you could dance, drink and eat. That was great, because many people who came to the Double Club didn't know it was an art project. It was warmly received, and it was and absolutely crazy project for an art foundation, very difficult to do. It was renowned to be a sophisticated thing, but it was also frequented by people of not only Congolese, but other African communities. I also liked that the neighbourhood, it was in Islington, loved it. It was wonderful to see such a short-lived, but very intense project.
Our Product, Pavilion of Switzerland
Curator Susanne Pfeffer
56th Venice Biennale
– You do a lot of solo exhibitions, like Anish Kapoor's, and you started research exhibitions.

– Good observation. We did a lot of solo exhibitions in Milan that almost always would be new projects with the artists. Venice became the territory of research exhibitions. Once a year we would do an in-depth research exhibition. Now in Milan we kind of unite research exhibitions with solo shows. In Milan we were able to reintegrate a number of other interests that we had, like cinema, philosophy, music, etc. We will be able to use it for a number of disciplines, because as I said before: art is the main instrument in our DNA, but we always had interest in other disciplines, and here in Milan we can unite them.

How is the global theme for the research exhibitions being decided?

– Doing the research exhibitions allows us to position the interest that Fondazione Prada has. For instance, if you look at the Small Utopia in 2012 that was about multiples, it had a lot to do with our interest to look into these utopian years, when there was an idea that artworks would not be unique, but could exist on a series of multiples. Because we look at 1975, it was very much linked to many relevant social theories, Russian revolution or the constructivist artists working with porcelain, or Bauhaus, or pop art in America. On the other hand, there were artists that reflected on the uniqueness like Marcel Duchamp. That was the idea that art would be accessible for many people, rather than being only in museums. I see a kind of connection between theoretical inquiries that were linked to the interests of Fondazione Prada and Mrs Prada. Which is relevant, because in the 20th century so many important cultural and social revolutions happened, that changed the perception of art.

Could you tell us a bit about your plans with Fondazione Prada and future exhibitions you would like to do?

– I cannot reveal a lot about our upcoming program, but we hope that we will keep on having this energy to offer unexpected cultural experiences. I hope that Fondazione Prada can operate as a big new cultural center in a creative and constructive way. I'll point out that it's a huge new headquarters. We are not calling it a museum, and we are not even revealing the next two years' program, because we want to use it in a flexible way.

– The last question will not be about Fondazione Prada, but about you. If you had a chance to go to dinner with any person in the entire world, who would it be, and what would you talk about? This person can be anyone, dead or alive, whoever you wish.

– This is a wonderful question. If I can choose from dead people too, then I would love to go to dinner with David Bowie. He was questioning identities, society and addressing awkward feelings in people that were lonely and detached. I think he went through hell in his personal life and despite that was incredibly poetic and a true artist. I like the way he evolved and managed to change all the time, so I would loved to meet him and I wish him a good journey wherever he is now. É
Interview: Étage Group
Date: May, 2016