In the ’90s HBO aired ‘Dream On’, a US series where the lead character at key moments had flashbacks of clips from TV shows he’d watched in his childhood.
It was a way of saying that all adults born since the ’60s are TV babies, shaped by its images, its theme tunes, its stereotyped dialogues, its dramas told live on air and its amusements.
The major Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli (born 1971) spent a great deal of time in front of the box as a child in the tranquil city of Brescia in the company of his grandmother.
He has drawn directly and powerfully on these memories to develop a vocabulary that speaks about stars in double buns, Hollywood myths, the grand, the sequinned, or what nowadays we call Entertainment.
Taking over the entire space of the remarkable Fondazione Prada in Milan (this former industrial site was renovated by star architect Rem Koolhaas in 2015) he offers a journey through his imagination inspired directly by ‘70s Italian TV.
Here he spoke about the motivation behind this project.
The design of the show has been masterfully realised by French art directors M/M (Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak), recreating the atmosphere of a TV studio, inspired by Ettore Sottsass’ Memphis aesthetic.
Mathias Augustinyak explains M/M intervention:
‘In Italy, 1970s television was like a mass sung in the cathedral: in an era without video tape recorders it was an event you either showed up for or missed,’ explains the artist.
At the Fondazione Prada, in sections that are always immersive and well-adapted to the subject at hand, the viewer passes alternately through the bleak years of the Red Brigade’s violent actions,
as well as through the prosperous years when delirious variety shows gave rise to new media icons such as porn star Cicciolina and Amanda Lear, the transgender star and good friend of Salvador Dali,
while well-dressed ladies in cosy living rooms sat discussing women’s issues in front of the cameras after lunch.
As for the clips from arts programmes, they’re shown here at the Fondazione Prada next to the works themselves. Such is the case with Giorgio de Chirico‘s painting ‘Sun on the Easel’ (1973), which we see on screen being made.
Francesco Vezzoli remarks that television during this period was also a platform for great talents such as the Taviani brothers and Pier Paolo Pasolini to express themselves.
This courageous exhibition from the Fondazione Prada that gives carte blanche to Francesco Vezzoli is an extraordinary, labyrinthine journey through the mind of an artist and a trip through time.
Fascinating even if you’re not familiar with Rai.
Until 24 September. www.fondazioneprada.org