Fondazione Prada mixes fashion, art and Wes Anderson bar in Milan

Waiters work in a bar designed by US film director Wes Anderson recreating the old Milan cafes' atmosphere in the new venue of Prada's Foundation on Saturday in Milan. -- PHOTO: AFP
Waiters work in a bar designed by US film director Wes Anderson recreating the old Milan cafes' atmosphere in the new venue of Prada's Foundation on Saturday in Milan. -- PHOTO: AFP

MILAN (REUTERS) - Prada - the Devil's favourite fashion brand, as the film and book would have it - is launching a giant multi-disciplinary arts complex on the edge of Milan that it hopes will attract tens of thousands of visitors a year.

The Italian fashion house opens a 19,000-square-meter headquarters for its art foundation on May 9 in a century-old ex-distillery transformed and extended by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

The inaugural programme features an exhibition on classical sculpture and a special appearance by Polish-born filmmaker Roman Polanski, who will present a documentary and a series of film screenings looking back on directors who influenced him most.

Koolhaas has added three new buildings to the existing structure: an exhibition pavilion, a tower and a cinema. A mixed programme of art exhibitions, film screenings and philosophy projects is planned.

The Fondazione Prada also boasts a bar designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), who has modelled it after historic Milanese cafes.

"There's no museum of contemporary art in Milan and no real dedication from the municipality to promote" such art, said Astrid Welter, project director of the Fondazione Prada. "This is why it was seen as a necessity to come in with an offering."

Every other year, Italy stages the world's biggest art exhibition - the Venice Art Biennale - hosting a roster of cutting-edge artists from around the world.

Yet the Italian government has otherwise been slow to embrace contemporary art within its museums and institutions. It was not until May 2010 that the country got its first national museum of contemporary art, Rome's MAXXI.

Companies and private individuals have stepped in to fill the gap. Prada started its contemporary art foundation in 1993, staging exhibitions and events in Milan, Venice and elsewhere.

Since 2004, Pirelli, the world's fifth-largest tyre maker, has run an exhibition hall outside Milan, in a 15,000-square-metre ex-factory where locomotive components were once built.

Hangar Bicocca, as it is known, has a 2015 budget of 3.5 million euros (S$5.26 million), and in the past decade has hosted shows by such big names as Serbian-born performance artist Marina Abramovic and France's Christian Boltanski.

While Hangar Bicocca lacks a collection of its own, Prada's co-founders Miuccia Prada and Fabrizio Bertelli own a substantial number of artworks that their Fondazione's curators will draw on to put together exhibitions, Welter said.

The collection includes works of post-war European and American art by such artists as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Walter De Maria, she said.