Friday, August 7, 2015

Fondazione Prada...stimulating AND open in August

Used to be that Milan pretty much closed down during August, but now that more and more people are staying in town, for one reason or another (read: the economy still hasn't picked back up sufficiently for people to afford long vacations like they used to take), they need something to do. ...More......

The exhibit space Fondazione Prada, open all through the month of August except a couple of days here and there, is an interesting solution.

Set up in a turn-of-the-last-century ex-distillerie ("Cavallino bianco," an Italian whiskey, one of the guards told me), it features the permament modern and contemporary art collections of Prada, as well as temporary exhibits and sometimes even film cycles.

I'm not a big fan of modern and contemporary art, but, like yucky-tasting medicine, it has to be taken in, and sometimes it even turns out to be tastier than one thought. In any case, something is gained.

Like my re-realization that familiarity goes a long way to helping us/me accept something. Now, while I don't particularly LIKE this (blue) Yves Klein (1957) or this (white furry) Pietro Manzoni (1962), I am used to the latter's shennanigans, and the former, for all its "what-the-heck-is-that?-ness," is still painted by the hand of the artist, is painting-sized, resembles a bas-relief sculpture, and is hanging on the wall, as one expects well-behaved art to do in a museum. I realized that this is why, when I walked into the room, I didn't roll my eyes (well, at the blue one, at least).

For similar reasons, my eyes didn't roll (much) when I walked into this room. Whether I liked, or understood, the paintings and sculptures hanging on the walls, they were doing what I expected paintings and sculptures to do, and I even recognized the work of some of the artists, since I had seen things of theirs before. Familiarity.

All of which I certainly can't say for what are called "installations" (for the less artsy, these are manipulations of the viewers total experience that can take place through various means: space, objects traditional and non, whether crafted or found, smells, colored lights, light and dark, music, video, tactile experiences,...). This one called "Creek bed" (2014-2015) by Robert Gober did make me roll my eyes, I confess, but trying to find SOME meaning, significance, or at least a raison d’être (even if it was purposefully nonsensical), in the piece even for my skeptical brain, I did find something. What looks like an ordinary street drain in the center of the room has on its shallow bottom small rocks, running water and a red illuminated fake human heart. All that for expressing trashed feelings that still pulse. And you know what? The more I think about it, the more I like it. In another room that he blanketed with eery wallpaper verging on the disgusting, the same artist actually did an untitled piece that I liked, perhaps for the clean colors and lines: an old white crib with a child-sized (probably not coincidental) slab of beeswax flanked by fake Granny Smith apples. (Why Granny Smith, and not Pink Lady? Maybe he was making a reference to his granny, named Smith. Maybe he just liked the gorgeous green against the white. Maybe it had another meaning for him, but has different meanings for each of us. This, in fact, is one of the things to absorb about art in all its forms that has emerged with the less evident subject matter often characterizing modern and contemporary art.)

Nearby is Louise Bourgeois' 1996 "Cell" that seems to invite viewers to enter, but the guard says "no," and must be obeyed. One could spend time contemplating, of course, and find something (there was, in fact, a touching quote about anxiety that can be seen through one of the windows on the other side), but I didn't see anything new, here, in this collection of "found objects" (a practice dating already from the beginning of the 20th century), nor in Gober's nearby gigantic cream-of-wheat Warlhol-esque box.

And here's the conundrum: placing so much emphasis on the new, the unique, or the startling, backfires. After the first one, it's already vacuous doldrums repetition (which, OK, was part of Warhol's point, but once he did it, it had been done, and was no longer startling). "Well," I hear the modern and contemporary art fans fuss, "what about all those 'Madonna and Child' paintings done throughout the centuries?!" Yeah, so what about them?! They weren't trying to be altogether new and different.

I fear that a lot of modern and contemporary art is between a rock and a hard place: no longer interested in repeating tradition (and who says they should?!), but making boringly repetitive attempts at being non-repetitive.

Cosmos at least bless those who put places to sit in museums.

There were some pieces that caused me to roll my eyes. I don't remember seeing a label for this one, though, so maybe it's not an artwork, after all, but a hidden support for video equipment. Seriously. On the long side toward the windows, it looked like there was a kind of flap that could be let down. Maybe the artist intended it to generate sounds when someone entered the room. Who knows?

In the area that the Fondazione calls "The Podium," there was an interesting (temporary) look at, guess what, copies and repetition in antique art. The absent originals, about which we know thanks only to then-contemporary citations, are nicely evoked in very blurry life-sized black and white prints laid flat on very low podiums near to the various copies gathered from important museums all over the world, such as the Vatican, in Naples and the Getty, just to name the three that come first to mind. For those who haven't studied this aspect of ancient art, nor the fact that it often was quite colorful, this temporary exhibit will be an eye-opener. For those of use who have, the beauty of the antique pieces restores the soul.

So, I dutifully waded through the modern and contemporary art bits (missed one of the temporary exhibits because I already had reclaimed my bag, and, with heat strong enough to, as the Italians say, break paving stones in two, I was not going to trudge back to the cloakroom to re-consign my voluminous bag), salved my soul with the ancient bits, and then rested and restored the body in the cute little cafè that, they tell me, is open until 10 P.M.

So, should you go? Yes, of course. Is it far away and hard to get to? Not particularly. Is it costly? No, it's within the norm. Challenge yourself, even if your eyes get lots of exercise rolling. It's my experience that sometimes the things that made you roll your eyes the most burrow the deepest into your soul, and toss up interesting thoughts, like a mole digging a burrow.

And the mere familiarity will help you, too.

Fondazione Prada
Largo Isarco 2 (just on the south side of the rail tracks at Piazza Lodi TIBB), Milano
tel. 02.5666.2612

Hours: every day from 10 AM to 9 PM (ticket counter closes at 8 PM); cafè closes at 10 PM; call ahead for special closing days (like the 15th of August, for example)

Cost: regular ticket E. 10 (some discounts available)

How to get there:

(1) MM3/yellow line, get off at Piazza Lodi and walk, or take the 79 (for the bus, go to the stop at the beginning of the overpass in the southerly direction, and take the 79 in the direction of Gratasoglio for about 7 stops to Largo Isarco; for the return, the stop is practically in front of the Fondazione's entrance in via Brembo, take the 79 in the direction of the MM3 Lodi/TIBB)

(2) Instead, you could take the 24 tram heading south, and get off at Via Lorenzini, which Brembo becomes in the other direction


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