Perhaps no venue better represents Milan’s embrace of arte, moda, and produzione than the Fondazione Prada, the campus of exhibition spaces opened in a former gin mill in 2015 by the collector and fashion world titan Miuccia Prada. And when there’s an opening gala there, in a factory hub on the outskirts of town, expect peak Milan: flashes of sharp ties and ovular eyeglasses, the liberally applied profumo of different guests mingling to create olfactory discord, and heels so high and narrow they get stuck in the post-industrial grates.
So I did a double take when I first spotted the artist Francesco Vezzoli, who was the guest of honor at a rollicking dinner here in Milan Sunday night, on the occasion of his new show at La Fondazione, “TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli guarda la Rai,” which was produced in conjunction with the country’s national broadcasting company to explore political upheaval in Italy in the 1970s. Unlike the well-heeled guests, Vezzo had on black Nikes, black sweatpants, a black T-shirt, and a black leather jacket.
“Your jet lag is early!” Vezzoli said upon approach, which, indeed it was—most of the guests had arrived in Milan that morning, with trains to Venice planned for the next day. “We’ll talk later—there’s a dinner, a party, a concert, a discotheque. Have to go!”
He was off, places to go, people to see here at the Prada Foundation, all of whom had come for him—over there was Courtney Love and Milla Jovovich, both of whom starred in Vezzoli’s Trailer for the Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, his entry to the Italian pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale. And there was Susan Sarandon, bedecked in Prada, and the collector Dasha Zhukova, sitting with Francesco Bonami and Ms. Prada herself. Even Cicciolina was there—Ilona Staller, former wife of Jeff Koons made immortal in his “Made in Heaven” series. Her date for the night was their son, Ludwig Koons.
The show itself was equally busy, and focuses on that era of Italian media’s “anarchic, revolutionary character,” as Vezzoli calls it in a text. Undeniably, this will look familiar in these similarly trying times, especially when the early part of the cocktail hour saw a high level of phone-checking as the results of the French elections started to trickle in. “He won, he won!” a group of fashion editors started exclaiming a little after 8 p.m. (Even in a somewhat conservative town of industry, the crowd at the party was clearly one to oppose Marine Le Pen.)
“1970s Italian television produced rituals and, as a consequence, absolute, long-lasting myths that still today, presented anew in this exhibition, can inspire us to make unconventional choices,” Vezzoli writes in the text.
With a potentially disastrous choice by France avoided, the evening took on a slight air of relief
As for the show, it’s a tour de force: a suite of work by Boetti, de Chirico, Pistoletto, and Burri—along with a series of accompanying video work projected in a cluster at the end—in the downstairs building give way to a darkened gallery upstairs, where screens are playing news clips of various calamities of the 1970s, including the Palestinian terrorist attack at the Rome airport in 1973, the killings of journalists in 1977, the assassination of a former prime minister in 1978, and the murder of filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was either crushed to death by his Alfa Romeo after picking up a 17-year-old hustler who confessed to killing him, or taken out by the mafia. The crime is still unsolved.
Then comes a gigantic space, and projected on the wall is footage of women’s marches in Italy, where the pervasive Catholic sentiment was no friend to abortion rights. The view was obscured at certain vantage points by Carla Accardi sculptures, many from the Collezione Prada. And then, at the end, is a new work by Vezzoli, Trilogia della Rai, a 15-minute video that splices together news footage of the cherished icons of his youth.
With the show properly seen by the hundreds of guests, there was dinner to be had in Bar Luce, the sorbet-hued space designed for the Fondazione by the filmmaker Wes Anderson. (There’s a Steve Zissou-themed pinball machine and a jukebox full of music selected by Anderson, should you want your aperitivo soundtracked like one of his films.) Waiters dressed to the nines served up scamponi al vapore, vitello tonnato, and risotto alla Milanese, and eventually some immaculate looking lime-green cakes from Pasticceria Marchesi. There was a performance by ‘70s pop singer Iva Zanicci, followed by a rager in a full-on reproduction of an Italo disco sin den, with curvy couches and shag carpets galore, vintage posters for abortion-rights marches on the walls.
In the middle of the throng of fashion editors and club kids, Vezzoli emerged, perhaps to speak about the show, but he gestured around—don’t you see we’re at the discotheque?
“But stay late!” Vezzoli said, and disappeared back into the ’70s fantasia.