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A Cinderella Of A Museum: Francesco Vezzoli On His New Project With Miuccia Prada


And you thought her men’s show in Milan was a spectacle. On Tuesday in Paris, Miuccia Prada will celebrate her label’s new Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré boutique—not with a traditional store opening party, but with an ephemeral museum at the city’s historic Palais d’Iena (home of her Miu Miu runway shows) that has been conceived of and constructed by her frequent collaborators: the artist Francesco Vezzoli and AMO by Rem Koolhaas. Vezzoli, among other things, is famous for a faux Caligula trailer; a premiere of a play that never ran starring Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman; and a performance art piece at L.A.’s MOCA that united Lady Gaga with the Bolshoi Ballet. sat down with him to discuss his latest “overambitious happening.”

How did the idea for an ephemeral museum come about?
Mrs. Prada and I have already worked together. For many years, we looked for a new project, but not to do another exhibition, not to do anything predictable. We’ve often discussed how these huge companies have big budgets for parties. And we brought up the idea of baroque parties. In the sixteenth century, great architects would produce these feasts. Mrs. Prada liked the idea. It’s taking the funding that normally would be used for something frivolous [a store opening party] to produce an artwork. An artwork involving different brains, and involving them in a big, risky, and funny game.

What will this game, as you call it, look like?
We will upholster the whole grand room with neon lights like a big cage. There will be a nightclub with a dance floor. And I produced all these sculptures which are sort of a fake pseudo parody of a retrospective. And we are transforming the Palais d’Iena’s mini parliament just for the night into a movie theater, where we put my favorite movies. So, it’s like a big fantasy. Both to Mrs. Prada and I, it seemed like a good place to make our dreams meet.

Why the Palais d’Iena?
It’s an incredible building, the size of the New York Public Library. On top of that, it’s a pillar of modernism. Auguste Perret did it between ’36 and ’46 and it was supposed to be a museum, but it never really became a museum. Today, it’s the Conseil Economique, Social, et Environmental. So, there’s this idea that we are squatting not only on the history of architecture but squatting on politics as well. We are occupying it for 24 hours. We are political Cinderellas. The beauty of the project, the true Prada nature of the project, is that Mrs. Prada is putting into a clash two aesthetics that are very different—mine, which is perceived as more melodramatic and camp, and Studio Rem Koolhaas’, which is perceived as dry or sophisticated.

And you’re tearing it down the next day?
It’s a 24-hour experience. You can call it a climax or an anti-climax depending on your perspective. It starts with a dinner hosted by Mrs. Prada, with only the people close to her. And then there’s a much bigger party, and then it’s going be open all night, hopefully for mischievous and vicious and dangerous events. Then there’s going be a pseudo press conference, and then an opening to the public until exactly 24 hours after the first person stepped into the room for dinner.

How do you see it, as a climax or an anticlimax?
For the celebrity seekers, it’s an anticlimax because the dinner comes first. Me, I’m way more interested and worried about the general public’s reaction. I’m worried that nobody will show up, or that they all show up and they hate it, or they feel it’s vilifying a monument. This is the risk that we’re taking. It’s not an institutional critique, I don’t have that pretension. But it’s certainly a way to discuss the role of institutions today. For me and you, a museum is a museum, but for a president of a bank, a museum is a venue on his list. It’s like, “Oh, where do we do the Christmas party? Do we do it at such-and-such museum, or do we do it at Cipriani 42nd Street?” Museums have become hubs for different types of social gatherings. Here, we are doing the opposite; here we are taking a place used by politicians and turning it into a Cinderella of a museum for 24 hours. And after that, all this extravagant setup will disappear.

You like walking that fine line between art and entertainment. Why?
I always say, I am a mirror, don’t take my word for my word, just see what I am reflecting. Look at the recent debate about Art Basel Miami. The art world invites to its rituals many, many celebrities I wouldn’t want in my worst video. I’m only reflecting this fine line of an industry that is putting itself up for criticism by wanting to become a secondary entertainment industry, a secondary fashion industry. Having navigated performances with famous stars before, I thought it was interesting to create a stage for the audience to make a performance. In a party of this scale, as you know, they would get a big singer. This is the only thing I had to say no to from the beginning. It would seem part of my act. I already did it with Lady Gaga. If I have to do it again, we have to reunite Abba, which is not going to happen, unless we do a partnership with H&M.

And will this 24-hour museum have a gift shop, as all museums tend to do today?
No, it would’ve created a fourth dimension. That would’ve been a multiple death jump. We’re already doing a triple. That would’ve been too risky.

How did you first meet Miuccia Prada, and why do the two of you connect the way you do?
We talk often about the fact that neither of us remember when we first met. What I really like is her, but before I met her I liked her work, I like the irony. I think she has the copyright on irony for fashion. I try to have as much irony in my work. It’s actually more difficult to do a project with someone you’re so close to and you love so much, because it’s doing a project for your favorite person in the world so you really want to impress them.

Do you have a favorite Prada collection?
I love them all, but the last menswear show with all those Elvis-meets-golf player looks, that made me laugh so much. And the one with the pink crocodile trolley (Spring 2006). It was such a take on this cliché of the girly girl; she’s just strolling around in candy land waiting for a sugar daddy. I thought the projection of the female identity in that show was so much the opposite of who its creator was.

What comes next for you?
We have a big traveling show that will be a joint venture between PS1 MoMA, MOCA, and MAXXI, the new Zaha Hadid museum in Rome, and my fantasy is that the three survey shows open more or less at the same time. It will be another attempt to create a short circuit, to create a condition of something that has never been done before, to push the boundaries.

You must need a lot of sculptures to have three exhibitions open at once?
I’ve been overproducing, but they don’t know it.

Photo: Courtesy of Prada