In the Recycling Beauty exhibition, presented by the Prada Foundation in Milan, beauty is neither immobile nor untouchable, explains Giulio Margheri of OMA who oversaw the installation

Accustomed to a static and untouchable idea of classical beauty, the Recycling Beauty exhibition confronts visitors with a different reality.

The reflection of the curator Salvatore Settis, third in order of time for the Fondazione Prada after Serial Classic and Portable Classic, evokes a classicism that does not disdain reuse and recycling. Which modifies the symbolic meanings of ancient works by recontextualizing them without fear. Removing, adding, replacing the head of a god with that of an emperor… Everything is permitted and everything is changeable. But it remains beautiful.

The Recycling Beauty exhibition project, at the Prada Foundation until February 27, was conceived by Rem Koolhaas/OMA with Giulio Margheri. We asked the associate architect to tell us how to find a meaning in beauty today.

Can you tell us how the Recycling Beauty layout project was born?

"It was a long process, lasting about two years, during which we worked closely with the curatorial team to understand how to develop the project. Recycling Beauty was born as a new chapter in a broad reflection on classic beauty curated by Salvatore Settis with Anna Anguissola and Denise La Monica.

For the Recycling Beauty project, we started with the curatorial hypothesis and with a list of possible works divided into families, which we then developed over time.

We started thinking about how to respond and support the idea of the curatorial team from the point of view of the installation through different ideas and proposals.

Professor Settis and the entire curatorial team were deeply involved in the design process, stimulating conversation and responding to our suggestions".

A fundamental aspect that we had to face when working on the set-up was the theme of scale: in the exhibition we move from very small artifacts, such as the Farnese cup (2nd century BC) which has a diameter of about twenty centimeters, on macroscopic scales, such as the reconstruction of the Colossus of Constantine more than 11 meters high.

Another crucial element that informed the project was speed, understood as the time that each visitor would have dedicated to viewing the artefacts. We used the idea of a study room to suggest a long and reflective stay in the exhibition spaces. Each work on display needs to be understood, in its formal modifications, additions and subtractions, which depend on a functional reuse of art, on its geographical and historical itineraries.

The models were a fundamental tool in deciding how to arrange the works in the space.

We made small-scale models of the Podium and the Cistern, which we brought with us to the curatorial meetings, and, later, we produced 1:1 scale models of the display platforms, tables, and artifacts, which we used to view the relationship between displays and objects.

Therefore, there is a precariousness of art and beauty: even the work of art can be reused. Have we cultivated the idea that beauty cannot be functional?

In Recycling Beauty there are different examples of how beauty takes shape.

Some pieces are the result of a transformation, born with a function and modified to take on a different semantic value. Some of the works however are the result of destruction, such as the Cosmatesque mosaics of Anghiari for which fragments of pre-existing statues were used.

The definition of beauty here is that each piece is something it originally wasn't. The beauty of the transformation is told, which goes beyond aesthetic beauty. We have tried to translate this idea with set-up and exhibition devices, giving ample space not only to titles, but to descriptive texts that explain the origin, evolution and itineraries of each work.

Another very important element within the exhibition is travel.

Over the course of their existence, the works have moved, changed their meaning and function. In each new context, their perception has changed.

For this reason, various maps come across within the exhibition itinerary, and this aspect is emphasized by presenting the works resting on bases used for handling and transport, to reaffirm the idea of a transformed and nomadic beauty.

Recycling Beauty talks about classic beauty and its transformation through reuse. Are there examples similar to those exposed in Recycling Beauty in architecture?

In the exhibition catalog there is a section dedicated to architecture. A photographic chapter within the catalog in the form of a portfolio illustrating architectural reuse using some cases of ancient architecture in Italy.

But it is a very common theme also in contemporary architecture.

The Prada Foundation itself is an example: it was born within spaces designed for a different function. His project reflected on a reorganization of spaces that underlies a level of transformation where the architecture has been reinterpreted, by removing and adding.