“Wes Anderson – Asteroid City” (as straightforward a title for a museum show as you can get) pays homage to Anderson’s latest feat of world-making and nods at the fruitful ongoing collaboration between the film director and Fondazione Prada. In 2015, Anderson designed Bar Luce, the permanent, wonderfully eclectic venue inside the Milan institution that was inspired by Italian pop culture of the 1950s and ’60s, including the neorealist films of Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti.
With his latest movie, Anderson also trains his imagination on the mid-century. “Asteroid City” evokes the American obsession with the space race and fear of nuclear annihilation, but also its embrace of that era’s lurid colours and patterns: aqua and ochre co-exist in vibrant juxtaposition on the screen.
Regardless of whether you find Anderson too twee and whimsical for your tastes or endlessly and refreshingly imaginative, his stylized sets are an undeniable force, both as drivers of his multi-narrative plots – the titular “Asteroid City” is a play within the movie, and it’s set in a desert meteor-crash site hosting a Space Camp – and as inspiration in the real world. Many a hotel and Instagram account are curated to mimic Anderson’s meticulous attention to quirky detail and his nostalgic vision of a retro-futuristic Americana.
In replicating the sets of “Asteroid City,” which were designed by longtime Anderson collaborator Adam Stockhausen (who won an Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel), the Fondazione Prada goes the distance. A bright-yellow model freight train, pastel-coloured vending machines – “stocked with snacks, cigarettes, beverages and ammunition for the Asteroid City population” – a telephone booth, billboards, flags, street signs and much more – all of these artefacts from the film are exuberantly displayed in the show, which runs until January 2024.
Which is just as Anderson would like it: “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),” the director states in the official press release.
But Fondazione Prada also sought to bring out the darker theme of loneliness that lies beneath what it characterizes as the “blinding brightness of the cinematography,” in order to allow the exhibition audience “to experience some of the movie’s deeper themes more intensely.” It translates the film’s language into a new artistic medium, that of the exhibition, in order to offer a deeper reading of the “complex subjects about human existence and various American political and social ideals that run through the director’s vision.”
If nothing more, the Prada exhibition allows for fans of Wes Anderson to inhabit his immaculate mise-en-scènes – one can already anticipate the flood of Instagram Stories that will emerge through the show’s months-long run – and it will surely continue the director’s influence in the worlds we create for ourselves virtually and in real life.
The Milan institution’s “Asteroid City” exhibition recreates the sets of the American auteur’s latest quirky-Americana film.