Milan's Expo is still one month away, but the very first pavilion dedicated to the universal exhibition - and the only one that will be located in the city centre - has opened its doors inside Milan's Triennale Design Museum. Entitled 'Arts & Foods: Rituals since 1851', the exhibition takes on the Expo's overarching theme of sustainable food but peers at it with an artistic lens. And the results are, in a word, delectable.
Curated by Germano Celant, the prolific artistic director of the Prada Foundation and curator of Milan's Fondazione Aldo Rossi, the exhibition sprawls across the entire 7,000 square metres of the museum, including its outdoor garden. It's like a never-ending feast of food-related objects, tools, paintings, installations, rooms and ambiences from 1851 to the present.
The first room of the exhibition, dedicated to the period between 1851 and 1948, is the most densely packed, cohesively designed and powerfully conceived. It features a fascinating mix of antique cooking tools, kitchen furniture and butcher stations to real Florentine bars from the early 20th century that have been painstakingly reconstructed, bottle-by-bottle. A magnificent collection of antique silverware, loaned by Milan's famous G. Lorenzi cutlery company, is on show, as are thoughtful portraits of chefs by Monet and Manet and an array of mid-century kitchen accessories.
Other rooms are dedicated to the 1950s, 60s and 70s, as well as to contemporary art's dealings with food. It's a tribute to Celant's profile that he's managed to wrangle top works by major artists such as Andy Warhol ('The Last Supper' and his infamous Campbell's soup cans), Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Tom Sachs, Marc Quinn and Urs Fischer (whose 'Bread House' smells just a little bit stale after nearly 10 years of circulation), even though their assembly makes less impact than the first historical room. No matter; Paul McCarthy's giant, inflatable ketchup bottle, which has been planted in the centre of the Triennale's lush park like a plastic skyscraper, makes up for it.
Also noteworthy is Gaetano Pesce's site-specific installation (the only one in the whole museum) which features giant pieces of kitchenware on a glass floor along with a group of actors chatting, cooking and fighting (what kitchen hasn't seen that?), all visible by nosy viewers looking up from the floor beneath.
This ambitious exhibit shines the spotlight on Milan's Triennale, shaking up this sometimes sleepy institution just in time for the Expo. Not only is the green garden in full aperitivo action but it also has water in its fountains for the first time in 50 years, thanks to the restoration of Giorgio de Chirico's 'Bagni Misteriosi'. In tandem with the brimming activity is a proper - and long overdue - restaurant opening up on the museum's first floor that features a balcony overlooking the park.