‘Waist Down’ travelling exhibition

‘Waist Down–Miuccia Prada: Art and Creativity’ Exhibition at Prada Los Angeles: July 27 – August 27, 2006

Reviewed by Elisabetta Gasparoni-Abraham | 20 August 2006

One of my favourite places in Los Angeles is the Prada Epicenter – Prada’s retail ‘experience’ on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills which opened in 2004 and is the third of its kind in the world. On my last visit, “Waist Down” was its latest marvel – a touring exhibition that opened in Tokyo in 2004 and travelled to Shanghai and New York before arriving in Los Angeles a few months ago.

It was designed by AMO and together with Miuccia Prada, selected the skirts in order to show their extraordinary craftsmanship, concept and creation. AMO is the creative think-tank of OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), an architectural practice based in Rotterdam, New York and Beijing which is overseen by the renowned architect Rem Koolhaas.

Rem Koolhaas/OMA was also the architect of the first Prada Epicenter in New York’s SoHo which opened in 2001.The second opened in Tokyo in 2003, designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. This building, a crystal glass sculpture situated in the Aoyama district, has become an architectural icon.

They are fashion boutiques that have truly been reinvented as architectural temples. Rem Koohlaas’s Rodeo Drive creation has transformed the traditional retail environment into a public space. The Epicenter in LA has no front facade as it merges directly with Rodeo Drive. You “enter” the store by walking on transparent surfaces below which you can see luminous cones that seem to have been carved into the sidewalk as they take the place of the traditional display window. Inside a symmetrical hill of staircases supports a floating aluminium box with the store organized along its perimeter.

Hanging display monitors can be found along the three floors. They emit constantly changing scenes. This Digital Theatre has been designed and programmed by AMO through a link to the Google search engine and Associated Press photo and news archive: Koolhaas has brought performance to commerce. The Epicenter assumes the characteristic of an “event space” where the atmosphere is charged with energy and entertainment. You soon realize that the garments play a secondary role in the space, and that you are actually engaged with the architecture.

Miuccia Prada has always been something of a trend-setter. She was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005 and 2006, and last year Vogue put her among the “magnificent seven” of the fashion industry. She had already started to go beyond fashion in 1993 when in Milan she opened Fondazione Prada, a non-profit organisation for contemporary culture curated by the Guggenheim’s own Germano Celant. Here visitors could see (in some cases their first solo exhibitions in Italy) the works of artists such as Barry Mc Gee, Marc Quinn, Carsten Hoeller , Sam Taylor-Wood, Mariko Mori, Dan Flavin, Anish Kapoor and many others.

The Fondazione has also published 26 books on contemporary art and architecture as well as collaborating with the Venice International Film Festival on restorations of rediscovered crime films from the Italian underground of the ‘70s. Then in conjunction with the British Tate Modern these films were screened last January at the time of the “Beyond Painting: Burri, Fontana, Manzoni” exhibition that featured three Italian painters of the same period. The Fondazione Prada has also partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival in New York to bring the Film Festival to the Italian audience, hosted conferences like “The Challenge” which explored the drive humans have to stand out and go beyond, to follow a dream, a utopia through revolution. Their most recent effort in this area was the “Art and Terror” conference where the audience is invited to trace terror in art and political life.

Although having to share the stage with the glorious Epicenter in Beverly Hills, “Waist Down” was simply a wonderful display of beautiful Prada skirts. Arranged like multi-coloured sculptural busts on top of pure white pedestals, they seemed to mutate when touched and then quickly regained their geometric form in front of your eyes. Other skirts were displayed on 4 x 4.5m panels, looking like amazing fresco reproductions; some were arranged as oversized lampshades complete with a switch to illuminate them, or hung on customized car windshield-wipers that gave them a natural movement as if they were being modelled on the catwalk; others were hung on ceiling fans spinning at different speeds. There were skirts in vacuum-sealed plastic bags hanging from the ceiling allowing light to filter through the materials, or carefully magnified through an oversized glass lens to reveal the most glorious detail.

It was a great exhibition, but more than that, it represented Miuccia Prada’s enthusiasm for sharing her love for the arts and architecture with the general public. She is aware that the majority of us will never be able to afford any of her creations, but she knows that we nevertheless have a desire to. Personally, I love to see new artistic/architectural possibilities whether in a museum, in a “store” or any other stage. This show is well worth a visit.


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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