Upwardly Mobile


Left: Architect Rem Koolhaas. (Photo: Fondazione Prada) Right: A view of Peter Greenaway's Ultima Cena di Leonardo. (Photo: Luciano Pascali)

“Absolute mayhem” would be an understated way to describe Milan’s Salone del Mobile, which opened last Wednesday to roaring crowds of shoppers and speculators. Though I knew going in that the Salone is the world’s largest furniture fair, being among 350,000 design aficionados is much more intimidating in real life than one would imagine—especially when they’re all packed into the megalithic fairgrounds at Rho. Credit crises may be buckling some bank accounts, but it’s reassuring to know that there’s still a (huge) market open to people in need of that extra-special creative trimming to make their house a home.

Throughout the five-day event, the impeccably dressed, bleary-eyed masses spilled forth into dozens of parties that overlapped nightly in the Zona Tortona, where galleries served champagne in containers designed by Karim Rashid. Elsewhere, Axor played manufacturer to Philippe Starck, the designer with the Midas touch, who presented a line of haute-couture showerheads, and Bisazza showcased two otherworldly installations: Andrée Putman’s checkerboard corridors and a remarkable mosaic-covered life-size jet by Jaime Hayon. The leather wings, marble stairs, and glass cockpit made up for the lack of motor, and it did have brass propellers. The hottest enfant terrible among London’s design companies, Established & Sons, threw a party in an abandoned swimming pool called La Pelota, where a great stack of drawers by Shay Alkalay acted as the centerpiece, and lumber board brought a certain gravitas to the Richard Artschwager–inspired tables by Tate Britain architects Caruso St. John.

Left: Filmmaker Peter Greenaway. (Photo: Luciano Romano) Right: A view of the party for Established & Sons. (Photo: Ilze Godlevskis)

This fantasia of beautiful things did not detract from auteur Peter Greenaway’s multimedia extravaganza, Ultima Cena di Leonardo, which was shown at the Sala delle Cariatidi in Palazzo Reale, one of historic Milan’s most stunning buildings. Splashes of light flitted across a to-scale, high-resolution projected digital image of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. In keeping with its fascist heritage, the typically mercurial Italian government vetoed the use of the original painting just days before, perhaps due to the nature of the projected images, which included Leonardo’s painting of Jesus’s genitalia.

Around the corner, the SaloneUfficio touched on a topic grudgingly familiar to many of us today—the Office as Creative Hub—with Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Art Sign Offices at the Loggia dei Mercanti, once a commercial center in medieval Milan. There, eight structures mapped “the human body at full stretch in mind,” riffing on another of Leonardo’s concepts, the equilibrium between man and universe. Bright orange grid walls sheltered human-powered objects consistent with the fair’s sustainable-energy theme. With slogans like “Third Paradise” and “Love Difference,” Pistoletto also made manifest another of the week’s leitmotifs: eroticism in unlikely places.

Overwhelmed by all the benches balanced against invisible walls and chairs conjoined with unidentifiable organic substances, I savored the opportunity to stand still for a bit while waiting to enter Swarovski's Crystal Palace event in the Zona Tortona on Wednesday night, hosted by Nadja Swarovski. Outside, a battered, flaxen-haired Londoner attempted to control the increasingly edgy queue of two hundred. But once inside, aggression receded as revelers mingled amid the glimmer of chandeliers by deconstructivist architect Zaha Hadid, a mosaic wall by artist Marcel Wanders, and a giant crystal-coated globe by design team Studio Job. That same evening, right next door, Wallpaper* hosted a party featuring work by Thomas Demand and Jeff Koons in a multilevel architectural miasma.

Left: Artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. Right: Armida Armellini; Manlio Armellini, managing director of Salone del Mobile; Rosario Messina, chairman of Salone del Mobile; Letizia Moratti, mayor of Milan; and Vittorio Sgarbi, Milan's councillor for cultural affairs. (Photos: Luciano Pascali)

By Thursday, I was already suffering from overexposure to ingenuity, but the historic unveiling of Rem Koolhaas’s designs for the new Fondazione Prada snapped me out of my stupor. The foundation was established by Miuccia Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, in 1993, and in 1996, they invited legendary curator and critic Germano Celant to join as artistic director. For their latest construction, Prada and Bertelli commissioned Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture to redesign an old distillery that they own, Largo Isarco, into a space for both contemporary and traditional art.

Speaking on a panel with Celant and Bertelli in one of Largo Isarco’s lofty structures, Koolhaas said his designs involved “abstract transformations of scale,” adding that, in the final space, “we can work with artists on such transformations.” Equally democratic, Celant stressed the importance of putting culture on display and the necessity of integrating curating and architecture. Prada and her providential son Francesco watched quietly from the second row, enjoying the eloquent and businesslike Bertelli, while Vogue’s Hamish Bowles glowered astutely.

The following evening, on the other side of town, Prada’s current Fondazione hosted an opening for twenty-nine-year-old artist Nathalie Djurberg’s exhibition “Turn into Me.” Large sculptural installations featuring trees, houses, and a grotesquely realistic warty potato encased stop-motion films laden with orifices. Stray body parts from a giant woman lay half-encased in the floor, making reference to Djurberg’s earnest passion for Bataille’s “The Solar Anus.” The “death of mutual existence,” as stated in the press release, fueled her project, which found a strangely perfect home at Prada, an institution known more for its discreet ensembles than for any fascination with fecal matter. Some of Djurberg’s earliest advocates, UCLA Hammer director Ann Philbin and curator Ali Subotnick, joined the Serpentine Gallery’s Hans-Ulrich Obrist in admiring the sexually deviant scene. Surveying the work myself, I reflected on the Salone’s creative exuberance and thought I understood Milan’s slow-moving nature a little more—the city needs to conserve every ounce of energy to get through a week like this.

Left: Critic and curator Germano Celant, Rem Koolhaas, and Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli. Right: Artist Jannis Kounellis. (Photos: Fondazione Prada)

Janine Armin