Prada is most closely associated in the public consciousness with luxury designer goods, such as shoes, handbags and perfumes. But the 104-year-old Milan-based company supports contemporary arts and culture more broadly through Fondazione Prada, an institution that has organized a range of solo exhibits — principally in Milan and Venice — since 1993.
The foundation was created and is co-chaired by Prada lead designer and co-chief executive officer Miuccia Prada — the youngest granddaughter of Mario Prada and founder of subsidiary brand Miu Miu — and her husband and Prada CEO, Patrizio Bertelli. The foundation opened a permanent art and culture institution, Largo Isarco, in 2015. The 205,000-square-foot campus, located south of Milan’s center, presents regular exhibitions.
Largo Isarco is the result of Netherlands-based architectural firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s expansion of a former gin distillery. It includes three new spaces — the Torre (tower), Podium and Cinema. The shimmering Haunted House, a four-story building that predates expansion, is plated in gold foil and houses Fondazione Prada’s permanent collection. The expansive grounds also contain a library, bar and restaurant, and children’s learning center.
“By introducing so many variables, the complexity of the architecture will promote an unstable, open programming, where art and architecture will benefit from each other’s challenges,” said OMA’s Rem Koolhaas, Largo Isarco’s principal architect.
Past exhibitions on the campus include works by American artist Edward Kienholz, an installation by London-based artist Goshka Macuga, and the film collection, Flesh, Mind and Spirit, chosen by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won an Academy Award for best director for The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2015.
Fondazione Prada also hosts photography exhibitions at the Milan Osservatorio on the fifth and sixth floors of the world’s oldest shopping mall — the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II — and in Venice at the Baroque-style The Palazzo, or Ca’ Corner della Regina, situated on the Grand Canal.
“I don’t feel generous,” Prada told The Guardian newspaper in 2015. “The result may be generous, but I didn’t start with that. I wanted to make culture attractive to the young (so they might see) that it is necessary to your life. It can answer political and even existential questions.”
One notable difference between Fondazione Prada and other cultural institutions founded or sponsored by corporate fashion houses is the full absence of the Prada brand itself. No displays of Prada haute couture grace exhibit halls; no Prada apparel is offered in the gift shop. The work of the foundation remains separate and distinct.
“Art is the Fondazione’s main and given instrument of working and learning,” reads the organization’s mission statement. “We will invite different kinds of people to provide new interpretations of undetected ideas from the (Prada Collection); curators, artists, architects, but also scientists and students, thinkers and writers.”