Milan’s Fondazione Prada has unveiled to the public Wes Anderson – Asteroid City: Exhibition — in collaboration with Universal Pictures International Italy — that opened on September 23rd and will run until January 7th, 2024. The show anticipates the Italian theatrical release on September 28th of Asteroid City, presented at the 76th Cannes Film Festival and released in the US on June 16th.
The bond between the Texan filmmaker and the Prada Foundation goes way back in time, when the cultural institution financed his 8-minute short film Castello Cavalcanti in 2013. Wes Anderson in 2015 also designed the Foundation’s Bar Luce that evokes the scenery of his palette-coloured films and recreates the atmosphere of a typical Milanese café by freely referring to two masterpieces of Italian Neorealism: Miracle in Milan (Miracolo a Milano, 1951) by Vittorio De Sica and Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli, 1960) by Luchino Visconti. Furthermore, in 2017, Wes Anderson and his wife Juman Malouf curated Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures, an exhibition project organised by Fondazione Prada in collaboration with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Ultimately, in 2021 Miuccia Prada asked Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola to make a short film for the brand’s new fragrance Candy L’Eau. The French model and actress Léa Seydoux was the protagonist of a love triangle between two twin brothers who evoked Truffaut’s Jules et Jim.
The current art show — Asteroid City: Exhibition — celebrates Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic oeuvre and includes a selection of original sets, props, miniatures, costumes, and artworks featured in the movie. It truly epitomises what the director defines as “an homage to my obsession for America during the Fifties.” In fact, Asteroid City is set in 1955 within a fictional American desert town famous for its meteor crater and celestial observatory. It narrates a convention of young astronomers and space cadets, bringing together students and parents from across the country that spectacularly gets disrupted by mysterious events that will change the world. The narration mode is articulate since it intertwines the world of theatre with that of the film set, it’s basically a play-within-a-film. During the presentation of a stage performance, there is a writer, a director and a cast. The show takes place in a remote desert town – which is a clear tribute to Paris Texas — that is known for a science fiction TV drama called Asteroid City. As the story unfolds also an alien makes an appearance. Basically the Anderson-verse of Asteroid City has a Chinese box-matryoshka structure.
The film boasts a stellar ensemble cast featuring Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, and Hope Davis. As Wes Anderson explained, also Bill Murray should have joined the cast but four days before his scheduled arrival on set, he caught Covid in Ireland, so the filmmaker was lucky enough to replace him overnight with Steve Carell. The movie was filmed in Spain, on the outskirts of Chinchón, a small centre in the Community of Madrid, welding the atmospheres of Western and Sci-fi movies.
The look of the film comes to life thanks to production designer Adam Stockhausen, which is what is celebrated at the Prada Foundation Exhibition. The scenery of Asteroid City is magnificently recreated, featuring the beguiling rocks of the desert, gigantic cacti, a diner, and petrol pumps. Besides the film sets, the costumes created by Milena Canonero are great protagonists of the exhibition. They encompass hues of light blue, orange and yellow and emerge as tableaux vivants. The show conveys the film’s fictional landscape into the Fondazione Prada’s Nord gallery. It is a backward journey in which various decorative elements regain their physicality, as visitors can wander around filling the shoes of the Asteroid City characters, strolling by the miniaturised model of the freight train, the humorous vending machines stocked with snacks, cigarettes, beverages and ammunitions populate the exhibition along with, the telephone booth, billboards, flags, street signs, artworks, books, hand-written notebooks and musical instruments. On display there are also the Roadrunner and the Alien puppets conceived by Andy Gent, who collaborated with Anderson for Isle of Dogs (2018) and Fantastic Mr Fox (2009).
Wes Anderson was born in Texas where he lived until his early twenties, yet he spent the second part of his life between France and England (where he shares a storage for all the props of his movies with his producer). Through the course of time he has also developed a very strong bond with Italy, where he shot in 2004 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou between Cinecittà Studios, Sabaudia and Anzio. During a recent interview to Italy’s well-known Radio Deejay, Anderson expressed the way movies from the Old Continent have influenced him, above all those by Federico Fellini “I love European cinema, especially Italian cinema: Fellini is a point of reference for me. I always think of 8½ and Amarcord: I studied and analysed the screenplays for a long time, to understand how his films work. But it’s impossible: it’s a mystery.” The American filmmaker further made a reflection on how Fellini’s films are often drawn from the director’s memories, whereas his creative process works in a slightly different manner. Anderson explained: “My movies are often the memories of what I wish had happened.”
Wes Anderson’s style — characterised by symmetrical shots, meticulous compositions and saturated nuances — possesses a curatorial flair that has become a trend even on social media. For instance, always during the interview with Radio Deejay, Anderson unveiled the secret to what online has been defined as the ‘Wes Anderson Filter.’ The director explained he obtains this effect by using natural light. For the interior scenes all artificial lights are turned off and glass ceilings are built, which is something that was done in the days of silent cinema. Ultimately, in post production, the contrast is reduced.
The Wes Anderson – Asteroid City: Exhibition moulds the cinematic craft into a new artistic medium. It projects the feelings of grief and loss of its original narrative through a multi-sensory journey that allows to ponder upon the American political and social ideals that run through the director’s vision. The elegance and refined research of the Anderson-Stockausen-Canonero team has much in common with the aesthetics of Prada, after all great minds think alike.
Wes Anderson has expressed his desire to reinforce his collaboration with Fondazione Prada: “My personal wish might be to have every prop and costume we ever made for all our movies transferred into the Fondazione Prada to live there indefinitely for all time (if they could spare us the space). Rem Koolhaas also designed one of my very favourite cinemas in the world right in the middle of it.”
Cover Photo Courtesy of Roger Do Minh/Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features
Exhibition Photos by Delfino Sisto Legnani-DSL Studio