Coco Chanel is said to have owned no less than 32 folding screens during her lifetime. The exhibition ‘Paraventi: Folding Screens from the 17th to 21st Centuries’ on view at the foundation established by Miuccia Prada features over 70 paraventi (Italian for folding screens).
Exhibition curator Nicholas Cullinan captures their elusive essence by introducing their long history among different civilisations on distant continents. The exhibition’s scenography is structured as a series of questions and a play of oppositions, unravelling amidst an ambiguous and enveloping echo through time. This spectacular display, designed by the Japanese architects SANAA, reinforces the curator’s intentions by presenting an astonishing array of screens, many of them with exceptional provenances.
On the exhibition’s first floor, visitors experience the folding screen’s historical development as a crescendo that starts with the majestic screens of seventeenth-century China, passes through the Viennese Secession onto mid-century Eames, and ends with contemporary screens by Cy Twombly and Mona Hatoum.
The ground floor is dedicated to a series of oppositions, such as ‘Readings: East and West’. Here, the complex history of migration and translation underlying folding screens is explored through the reading of their images from left to right and vice versa. Continuing on, one encounters the section ‘Public/Private’, which invites viewers to reflect upon these objects’ spatiality, their ambiguous status between two- and three-dimensionality, as well as their erotic connotations. In the same spirit, the section ‘World of Interiors’ explores the interplay between decoration and function, ‘lowbrow’ items and fine art, and how queer aesthetics subverts such binaries. Screens created especially for this exhibition by artists such as Tony Cokes or Cao Fei are also on view.