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Antiquities next to contemporary in Prada Foundation’s new home

Rem Koolhaas-designed space in Milan to open in May with Roman sculpture and 21st-century art

A rendering of the Prada Foundation’s art centre in Milan

The Prada Foundation’s long-awaited contemporary art centre and permanent home in Milan, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his OMA practice, is scheduled to open in May with an exhibition exploring classical antiquity. The show, “Serial Classic” (opens 9 May), is organised by professor Salvatore Settis, a leading Italian art historian and the head of the Getty Research Institute from 1994 until 1999.

The exhibition will explore the appropriation of Greek sculpture in the Roman world, a common feature of Roman art that resonates strongly with contemporary preoccupations such as originality and reproduction.

“It’s an adventurous move and it’s also a very refreshing one; the foundation goes way past the mere accumulation of objects,” Settis says. “[Miuccia] Prada wanted the first show to focus on classical antiquity but in a contemporary context. In the museum world, it’s usually the other way around, which is why this idea was so appealing to me.”

Yesterday, the Fondazione Prada revealed more details of its new Milan headquarters in a press release yesterday. The complex will include a bar, designed by the American film director Wes Anderson whose films are known for their meticulously designed sets, that will recreate the mood of the city’s historic 19th-century cafés. Another film director, Roman Polanski, has made a documentary and a series of films that will be screened in the foundation’s cinema room. Meanwhile, the sculptor Robert Gober and the photographer Thomas Demand have been commissioned to create site-specific installations intended to dialogue with the industrial architectural space.

The foundation is known for its innovative collaborative projects with artists such as Anish Kapoor, Carsten Höller, Walter De Maria, Steve McQueen and Louise Bourgeois, and its own extensive collection of contemporary art. It has also made a name for itself by producing art-historical, research-heavy exhibitions.

Set up in 1993 by Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, the foundation is taking over an early 20th-century distillery on Largo Isarco in Milan’s industrial district, providing the city with a much-needed new space for contemporary art at a time when many of the country’s public institutions, such as Rome’s MaXXI museum, are suffering the effects of funding cuts.

The venue’s total exhibition space is 11,146 sq. m. Koolhaas has added three new buildings to seven existing industrial spaces: a large exhibition pavilion, a nine-storey tower and a cinema. For the opening show, Roman copies of celebrated statues, such as the Discobolus and the Crouching Venus, attributed to the Hellenistic sculptor Doidalsas of Bithynia (active 200BC-100BC), will go on show in the new pavilion, which has been temporarily named “Podium”.

As well as screenings and temporary shows organised by guest curators, the galleries will house works from the Prada collection. One of the buildings, called “Haunted House”, is expected to include works selected by Miuccia Prada herself; the cost of the project is undisclosed.

The launch of the new centre coincides with the opening of Milan’s Expo (1 May-31 October) as well as the Venice Biennale (9 May-22 November). The foundation’s Venetian outpost, Ca’ Corner della Regina, which housed a critically acclaimed re-creation of Harald Szeemann’s landmark 1969 show “When Attitude Becomes Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013” during the 2013 Biennale, will host an exhibition (“Portable Classic”, opens 9 May) linked to the Milan show.

“The production of small-scale sculptures was widespread in antiquity and the Renaissance, when entire workshops were dedicated to this, and even then, collectors used to compete, out-buy and poach artists from each other,” Settis says. “The large-scale replicas are suited to Milan’s industrial space, while the small-scale works are perfect for the more intimate space in Venice.”

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