In the past few years, the worlds of art and fashion have become more entangled than ever. Pushed along by a mutual interest in design, craftsmanship and luxury, artists and designers are pursuing relationships that run the spectrum from the creative to the commercial, with plenty of overlaps along the way. Nowhere is this phenomenon on more vivid display than at Art Basel Miami Beach, the sprawling art fair that has become the elite’s de facto getaway every December. Here, the main fair at the convention center has given way to satellite fairs, guerrilla exhibits, political statements, stunts, pop-ups, parties, concerts, and all manner of lavish spectacles, and, in many instances, fashion labels are leading the charge.
For some brands, collaborations with artists are a way to add a layer of gravitas to otherwise commercial projects. Some designers find inspiration and new ways of thinking in the works of fine artists, while others are collectors themselves who have used the financial might of their backers to support the practice of artists and craftsmen. But few modern designers have been in as sustained a dialogue with art as Miuccia Prada. Her involvement goes beyond mining artistic references for the purposes of fashion design, a commitment underlined by the Fondazione Prada, the organization she and her husband Patrizio Bertelli, the label’s chief executive, founded over 20 years ago to support and house the collection they were beginning to cultivate. In other words, she’s put her money where her mouth is.
“It’s difficult to summarize a life interest in a few words, but, of course, art has been part of the search and truth in my life,” she said in Miami recently.
Though her appearance in town coincided with Basel, Prada, like many serious collectors, would be bypassing the fair to focus on more pressing matters, like unveiling the new design of her Design District flagship, and kicking off the Double Club, the Carsten Höller pop-up nightclub that arguably became the social attraction of the week. Hers was one of the appearances that ensured that this Art Basel was dominated by strong women, including Katie Stout’s “Narcissus” exhibit at the Nina Johnson gallery; Tara Subkoff's performance with the Hole gallery at the Edition; Cardi B.’s concert for Moschino at the Eden Roc; and Fair., the all-woman exhibit at Brickell City Center that aimed to highlight gender inequity in the art world, not to mention a lot of Instagram-friendly art, like Suzy Kellems Dominik's 12-foot tall installation, "I Can Feel."
For Prada, design is gospel, an appreciation that was in sharp relief at the store thanks to the incorporation of Art Deco motifs and Latin American culture into its decor—for instance, famed mid-century Brazilian furniture designers like Joaquim Tenreiro and Carlo Hauner created unique pieces that stood out amid the marble checkered Art Deco floor covering the store, a reference to Prada’s own home. “I was interested in making something that makes sense in the area where you are,” she continued. “This is something related to this culture, it gives value, and is in discussion with the local audience.”
Not too far away, Prada had also erected the Double Club, her second collaboration with the German Höller to build a working nightclub—London was the first in 2008—that would exist for only a few nights. This one, at a vast former ice factory, fused Italian disco and Cuban pizzazz and featured performances by Wyclef Jean, Princess Nokia, and the Black Madonna while drawing everyone who happened to be in Miami, from Rita Ora and Diplo to Presley Gerber, Ricky Martin and Wendi Murdoch.
“He creates things that make you smile and forget everything for a second,” she said of Höller, whom she met in Berlin in 1999 and promptly commissioned to install one of his famous slides at her headquarters, which, by the way, she actually uses. “I’m always open when someone proposes something strange or impossible, so when he mentioned [the Double Club idea] to me, I said, ‘Let’s do it,” she recalled, adding that she was drawn to the fact that they could replicate the concept in different locations, from London to Miami to even its Rong Zhai mansion in China. “The first Double Club felt connected to life, and that was really revolutionary.”
Prada, who began studying political science in Milan, said her cultural education came from literature and film, and that it was later in life that she developed an interest in fine art through friends who encouraged her to use empty industrial spaces she and her company owned for exhibitions. “We started to study, to meet artists, and it was a full immersion,” she said, referring to herself and Bertelli. “Then I realized that all the arts are the same, whether it’s a movie or literature, the mind of the people is the same. Only the expression is different.”
Two years ago, they opened their collection, which includes everything from modern masters like Damien Hirst and Robert Gober to priceless Italian renaissance works, to the public in a lauded complex in Milan designed by Rem Koolhaas. Although the Fondazione is distinct from the label, and does not serve any retail purpose, it’s useful for Prada as a sort of petri dish, a haven for ideas.
“My interest is in thoughts—trying to understand the future, trying to understand the present—and art has become one instrument, but not the only one, for my knowledge,” she said.
Though Prada prefers to keep her passion for art independent from her fashion design, Miami was a rare occurrence where both worlds were in perfect harmony. “Everyone’s mixing everything today, but, just to be different, I want to keep things separate. It’s my punk attitude that I have to do the opposite of what I did or what everyone else is doing,” she said, laughing. “Of course, in my mind, my art and my job are always fused.”