Ossian Ward: Prada does much more than resurrect an old show

“When Attitudes Become Form”, at the Fondazione Prada, is a 21st century re-enactment of pioneering Swiss curator Harald Szeemann's seminal 1969 exhibition in Bern, a landmark show for conceptual art and one that has had to “Live in Your Head” (to give its full title) or in grainy black-and-white photographs and nostalgic eulogies, until now. The immense task of squeezing the Kunsthalle Bern's floorplan and almost every piece from the original grouping into a Venetian palazzo has been shared with artist Thomas Demand and architect Rem Koolhaas who have made ingenious attempts to bypass the frescoed walls and missing objects with ghostly dotted lines (like chalk lines around dead bodies) and contemporary recreations of many pieces.

Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern, 1969 Photo: Shunk Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

The contributions of Richard Serra, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Richard Long, Robert Morris and Bruce Nauman, among other well-known Minimalists and Arte Povera practitioners, are mostly present and correct, with gaps left by necessarily temporary lumps of salt, flocked walls and smears of margarine fat by the likes of Joseph Beuys and Eva Hesse, the contemporary versions of some looking like apologies rather than homages. The mystery-inducing guide and initial confusion over what is real, imagined or remade soon gives way to the most rewarding history lesson in radical thoughts-as-art, a time-travelling tour rather than a digging up of old graves, as might have been feared with so legendary a reputation to live up to. Astonishing to behold are the bravura use of the fewest materials possible and the truly influential artists who have since fallen by the wayside—Thomas Bang, Marinus Boezem, Ger Van Elk and Emilio Prini to name but a few. It is tempting to believe that, almost half a century on, we have come so far and are so “post-everything” that such a wanton act of resurrection can't add anything to the glut of contemporary art on offer elsewhere in Venice, but that would be to discount the incredible relevance and purity of so much of Szeeman's project.

Ossian Ward is the former art editor for Time Out magazine

Published Fri, 31 May 2013 14:23:00 GMT

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