Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prada & Tom Sachs

by Nina Fernström

Germano Celant, Director of Fondazione Prada, with Miuccia Prada, 2008

Art patronage and the relationship between fashion house and artist as seen in Prada and Tom Sachs from 1997 to 2006: There are benefits and complexities in the interface between art and business. Prada has long been a fashion house with an art interest. They opened the Fondazione Prada in Milan in 1995, a space dedicated to the showcasing international contemporary artists and housing the private collection of Miuccia Prada. American sculpture Tom Sachs is famous for his bricolage works and has a long track record of provocation and numerous subversive comments on commercialization, including Prada.

Inside Fondazione Prada, Milan and the new space by Rem Koolhaas, expected 2011

The referencing to Prada in Sachs’ work began with the “Prada Toilet”, an un-commissioned cardboard toilet created by the artist in 1997. Prada is said to have offered an unlimited supply of shoeboxes for the piece. In 1998, Sachs again used Prada packaging this time to build a model of a German concentration camp, which he entitled the “Prada Death Camp.” The controversial sculpture was shown at the Jewish Museum in New York, not surprisingly causing outrage.

Tom Sachs
”Prada Toilet”, 1997

Prada’s endorsement of Sachs' controversial work and of art that criticized their own working practices left people confused and bewildered. In 2006, Prada commissioned Sachs to produce an exhibition at the Fondazione Prada in Milan. The exhibition was a retrospective of Sachs’ work including a few new large works such as “The Island” and “Balaenoptera Musculus” – a giant life size model of a whale.

Toma Sachs,Balaenoptera Musculus”, 2006, Chevy Caprice, 1987-2007, Fondazione Prada, April-June 2006

The extension of patronage from corporation to artist prompts questions regarding the nature, purpose and outcome of such acts: Is it an efficient, thought-through corporate strategy or merely an act of giving Prada a more edgy appeal? In the case of Prada and Tom Sachs it becomes clear that Prada is able to build further on the artistic identity of the brand by “borrowing” the edgy appeal of Tom Sachs. They are fully aware that the contents of his work will upset a wide audience but also mindful of the fact that reactions drive publicity which in turn drives sales. Prada is able to play down their commercial role and differentiate themselves in an ever-expanding luxury-brands market. By portraying the company as a meaningful brand they are able to reconnect with their target customer: the intellectual and culturally aware.

Tom Sachs, The Island, 2008, Fondazione Prada, April-June 2006

For Tom Sachs the backing of Prada can, besides the obvious benefits of financial support, work as a neutralizing force on the critique of his work. There is also of course the potential attraction of a wider target group for his art and for exhibitions.

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