Art The folding screen brings everyone together
Artexhibitionfolding screenfondazione prada

The folding screen brings everyone together

Giorgia Massari

At the Milan venue of the Prada Foundation, there are seventy folding screens on display, and they are not all Japanese or Chinese, in fact. What is striking about this exhibition – open from today, October 26th, until February 22nd, 2024 – is the incredible variety, both from a cultural and temporal perspective. The exhibition “Paravents: Folding Screens from the 17th to 21st centuries,” curated by Nicholas Cullinan, explores the identity and semantic transformation of this object, typical of Eastern culture but which has fascinated a large number of artists over the centuries. From René Magritte to Francis Bacon, passing through Giacomo Balla, Alvar Aalto, Yves Klein, Le Corbusier, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, to name a few of the most well-known. But let’s learn more about the exhibition layout and, above all, the eccentric interpretations that each of these artists has given to the folding screen. One is even shaped like a grater.

The exhibition begins on the ground floor of the Prada Foundation and continues on the upper floor. As soon as you enter, the curatorial research becomes clear: to investigate the history and interpret the meanings of the folding screen, retracing the events that led to the contamination between East and West, ultimately leading to a hybridization of functionality and art form. One of the first works is, in fact, a recent contemporary structural interpretation of the folding screen. A series of Xiaomi smartphones and Lenovo tablets are interconnected to replicate the classic zigzag shape of the folding screen. This is the work of Cao Fei titled Screen Autobiography (Milan), created specifically for the exhibition. A few meters ahead, the viewer is immersed in a real temporal journey. Three beautiful examples of 18th-century Japanese and Chinese folding screens are set in the niche created by the SANAA architecture studio, which designed the entire exhibition project.

«Is it painting or sculpture? Art or a furnishing accessory? Utilitarian element or ornament? Decorative, functional, architectural, or theatrical?» These are the questions posed by curator Nicholas Cullinan that set the tone for the exhibition. One folding screen after another, the different interpretations that each artist, over the centuries, has attributed to this object, already laden with specific meaning and functionality, emerge. It was created to divide, conceal, protect. Here, however, it is transformed into a tool for political propaganda, used as a symbol of ostentation, or even more so, as an overtly transgressive decorative element.

Keiichi Tanaami, Utopian Situation by “Guernica”, 2023

If there is no chronological order on the ground floor of the podium but rather a synchronic approach dominating the arrangement of the folding screens, on the upper floor, there is a diachronic logic. Row after row, you move from older folding screens to more contemporary ones, passing by the wonderful blue folding screen by Yves Klein and the colorful one by Pablo Picasso. At the end of the room, there are some site-specific commissions that stand out: the super pop folding screen by Keiichi Tanaami, as the title suggests, “Utopian Situation by ‘Guernica’,” is a contemporary reinterpretation of Picasso’s famous Guernica. Another folding screen that catches the eye is “Untitled (Bread is Not Cut, Bread is Broken)” by William Kentridge, which, on the front, illustrates what he wants to present to the world, while on the back, it reveals anxieties and fears through writings like “these are my old tears” or “I no longer wait.”

William Kentridge, Untitled (Bread is Not Cut, Bread is Broken), 2023

Stepping back before going upstairs, you pass by three rather unique works. As mentioned at the beginning, one of the most distinctive works in the exhibition is the grater folding screen, created in 2022 by the artist Mona Hatoum and titled “Grater Divide.” With an ironic approach, using the estrangement of the surrealist object, the Lebanese artist creates a human-sized grater, amusing and somewhat frightening the viewer. The other two nearby works are by Isa Genzken from 1990 and Goshka Macuga from 2023. The first has a monumental and brutalist approach. The folding screen is emptied of its function, allowing you to see through it. The four panels turn into reinforced concrete frames, becoming an “empty armor.” Macuga’s work is super contemporary. The piece is a real zigzag bookshelf that explores the concept of division in terms of nationality, geography, and culture.

The exhibition is open until 22 February 2024. Click here for more information.

Foto: Delfino Sisto Legnanie Alessandro Saletta–DSLStudio
Courtesy: Fondazione Prada

Artexhibitionfolding screenfondazione prada
Written by Giorgia Massari
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