serial classic

During my recent trip to my hometown, Milan, I had the chance to visit a new spot for contemporary art, a luxury gallery space run by Fondazione Prada. The massive brand-new building designed by Rem Koolhaas is conceived around the architectural configuration of an old distillery from the 1910’s. It contains a variety of materials, from polished mirror walls to pavement sections made of wooden tiles, and its symbol is the main tower of the pre-existent structure which has been restored and covered with gold foil.

The whole site is an amazing sequence of white cubes, big rooms offering a view to the post-industrial landscape of the area, basement cinema spaces and warehouses. It also includes the cheap version of a typical 50s-inspired café powered by director Wes Anderson (“cheap” version, definitely not its prices).

 

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Serial Classic, the main exhibition, was an interesting journey through Greek and Roman sculpture, underlining the aspects of seriality, replication and appropriation in the Classical age. I genuinely enjoyed how the themes worked as an outlook on contemporary culture, using sources from both big international museums, small local archives and academic researches. Here an excerpt from the introductive text by its curator Salvatore Settis:

The artistic heritage of antiquity has been almost entirely lost, and no more than 2 percent remains. Today, scarcely one hundred more or less complete Greek bronzes survive, almost all of which were rediscovered in the past 120 years, often pulled up from the sea millennia after having sunk along with the ships that carried them. But the Romans developed a passion for Greek art, and had many copies made of Greek statues which, thanks to their sheer numbers, survived better than their original prototypes. The copies give us an idea of what the lost originals looked like, because they were the product of a mechanical, serial process of reproduction. It is in these copies that we can rediscover traces of the originals by great master sculptors (Phidias, Myron, Polyclitus, Praxiteles) mentioned in Greek and Roman sources.

This exhibition represents the lost originals with an empty pedestal, on which are placed summaries of the ancient sources that describe Myron’s Discobolus, Polyclitus’s Doryphorus or Praxiteles’s Satyr. Alongside is a section of Roman copies of the respective originals: the tension between original copies is therefore presented as one of the main themes of the exhibition. Thanks to archaeological research, today we no longer need a more or less complete copy to recognize a Discobolus: a simple torso, head or hand holding a disc can be enough. Yet for centuries the torsos of copies of the work, not identified, were restored arbitrarily, for example as a fallen warrior. Analogous examples can be seen in other sculptural types, as Paraciteles’s Resting Satyr, or Doidalsas’s Crouching Venus.

Nevertheless, seriality was not limited to copies: the exhibition reaches back to a series of terracotta busts from Medma (a small Greek city in Tyrrhenian Calabria), produced between 500 and 450 B.C., which strongly resemble one another because they were produced in molds. Just like the expensive marble korai from the Arcopolis in Athens, these terracottas were made after the same original type, yet they vary in hairstyle, decoration, narrative detail (for example a flower held in one hand) and, in ancient times, their color, even though it is now missing.

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