Chances are your taxi driver won’t know where to go when you say, “Fondazione Prada, per favore.” He may Google it, then look at you confused. This high-concept complex is deeply hidden in Milano’s sun-bleached, industrial Largo Isarco neighborhood, which seems a more likely place for someone to dispose of a body than for a major fashion house to exhibit contemporary art.
When you pull up, the only confirmation that you’ve arrived is a white neon sign glowing above the ruins of what was once the Società Italiana Spiriti distillery. There’s no visible ticket office—just a vast, empty courtyard and a cluster of oddly shaped buildings. Outside of one, a staircase seems to lead nowhere. But that’s all part of why you come here: Exploring the compound is an absolutely disorienting—and intriguing—visual experience.
The 205,000-square-foot center was the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli. Their Fondazione Prada had been mounting exhibitions for years, but they wanted Prada’s art collection to have a home of its own. They pictured something untraditional—an anti-museum of sorts. To pull it off, they collaborated with Dutch visionary Rem Koolhaas and film director Wes Anderson. Koolhaas led a team of architects at his firm, OMA, to revamp the site, adding oddball elements, and Anderson created Bar Luce, a café full of vintage details.
You can immediately see the Koolhaas touch in the four-story “Haunted House”: It’s the building in the courtyard, the one plated in 24-karat gold. The space contains works ranging from the absurd (a room of clothing on hangers conceived by Louise Bourgeois) to the more absurd (Robert Gober’s crib holding a giant stick of butter). Next to the gold building sits the Cinema, which screens projects by such directors as Steve McQueen and is clad in so many mirrors that it nearly dissolves into the sky. The rest of the art is shown in a trio of old distillery tanks. Koolhaas’s team hollowed out the concrete cylinders, and each now displays pieces from the collection, some of which go back seven centuries.
All visits to the Fondazione wind up at Anderson’s Bar Luce, the café on the outer edge of the property. (Look for the giant neon sign that reads simply BAR.) With terrazzo floors and 1950s turquoise and pink Naugahyde chairs, the space looks like one of Anderson’s whimsical sets. But nothing is just for show. The bespectacled bartenders, who could be extras from The Grand Budapest Hotel, will serve you glasses of spumante, and the retro pinball machines operate when fed coins. It’s yet another fully realized world in the Prada universe where you can lose yourself.