Fondazione Prada presents Recycling Beauty, an exhibition curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola with Denise La Monica, designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA. The underlying premise of this research is the need to think of the classical not simply as a legacy of the past, but also as a vital element with the power to affect our present and future. Through an innovative interpretive approach and an experimental exhibition format, ancient heritage—in particular Greco-Roman heritage—becomes, in Settis’ words, “a key that provides access to the multiplicity of cultures in the contemporary world.” Despite its cultural relevance and widespread diffusion, the reuse of ancient materials has been studied in depth only recently. In the last few years detailed attention has been devoted to the essential aspect of this phenomenon: the visual and conceptual interaction between the reused ancient elements and the post-Antique context, far from their origin, they became part of. “Recycling Beauty,” instead, aims to draw attention to the moment when an antique artifact crosses the boundary between its condition of abandonment among ruins and the moment its value is reactivated through its reuse.
The exhibition design, conceived by Rem Koolhaas/OMA, together with Giulio Margheri, takes place in two of Fondazione Prada’s buildings—the Podium and the Cisterna—as a process of historical analysis, discovery, and imagination. The scenography in the Podium invites visitors to engage with the exhibits at different speeds. A landscape of low-rise plinths made of acrylic allows for the pieces on display to be perceived as an ensemble, while the cubicle-like structures encourage a closer examination with the presence of office chairs. In the Cisterna, visitors encounter the exhibits gradually, in a sequence of spaces that facilitate observation at different points of view from the height of a balcony to the confined perspective of a room built inside one of the existing rooms. Parts of the design come from materials from previous exhibitions hosted at Fondazione Prada—the acrylic bases were first used in 2015 for “Serial Classic”, adding a spatial dimension to the theme of “Recycling Beauty.”
The installation aims to underline the great artistic and historical value of the works presented, but also to demonstrate how they have experienced migration, transformation, and evolutions of meaning. Highlighting the importance of fragments, reuse, and interpretation, the exhibition design helps to consider the past as an unstable phenomenon in constant evolution. This layered path houses over sixty highly representative artworks from international and Italian public collections and museums, including Musée du Louvre in Paris, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Musei Capitolini, Musei Vaticani, and Galleria Borghese in Rome, Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence, and Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.
On the occasion of the “Recycling Beauty” exhibition, Fondazione Prada created an extensive illustrated volume. A visual essay, sixteen critical texts, four in-depth studies, and a comprehensive series of detailed profiles of the exhibited objects analyze the theme of reuse in art and architecture from different historical, artistic, and philosophical perspectives, with the aim of outlining a history and recognizing the continuity or the conformity of these practices with the thinking and experiments of the present day.