“Recto Verso” continues an approach from the preceding Nord gallery exhibition “In Part”,
curated by Nicholas Cullinan, whereby a latent theme is detected in the Prada Collection,
and then expanded with loaned works from international and national institutions.
In this way, the Prada Collection is thought of as an open resource whose potential
provides new interpretations of the present.
The Western art tradition has mainly conceived of paintings as frontal (“recto”) artifacts. The
back (“verso”) carries significantly less cultural meaning, destined to remain beyond the
public’s view, and only visible to the artists themselves or staff at museums and galleries.
In this exhibition, artists over the course of two centuries to today counter this convention by
flipping the back to the front. For example, in some works in the exhibition, the trompe-l'oeil
technique, made famous by 18th-century Flemish painters, is used to focus attention on the
frame rather than the picture. In these artworks the back is represented through both the
technique of painting, as in the case of Louis-Léopold Boilly, Roy Lichtenstein and Luca
Bertolo, and photography, as exemplified by Gerard Byrne, Thomas Demand, Philippe
Gronon, Matts Leiderstam and Ian Wallace. The marks that the artists leave on the back of a
painting can be diverse in nature and their intentional revelation of non-visible content can
vary: from the explicit message of protest shown by Gastone Novelli during the 1968 Venice
Biennale, when he exhibited one of his paintings reversed, like a wall on which political
slogans could be written, to the inclusion of actual images on the back of the canvas, as can
be seen in the works by Llyn Foulkes and Giulio Paolini. . These only become visible when they
are turned around, thereby calling into question the ascendancy of the recto over the verso.
When the back of a painting began to become a subject for artistic research, the
confusion between the two surfaces began to shift towards a fusion proper, as in the
processes of combustion carried out by Alberto Burri. The structure of the painting may also
take center-stage: Sarah Charlesworth’s double-exposure photography sees through the
work itself to emphasize the structural and physical features of the represented object.
Whereas Carla Accardi replaces canvas with transparent plastic, thus revealing the
otherwise hidden structure and the wall behind, in recent years Pierre Toby has used glass
for the same purpose. In the works of Pierre Buraglio and Daniel Dezeuze—close to the late-
1960s French art movement Supports /Surfaces—the picture plane vanished completely,
leaving only the support material.
The disposition of works in Nord gallery continues the theme of reversal and reveal. A
number of pieces are suspended between the dividing walls, transforming what is normally
presented as flat and two-dimensional into sculptural and three-dimensional, allowing visitors
to circle around.
In the associated publication, part of the Quaderni series by Fondazione Prada, each of the
four members of the Thought Council will provide an essay or story that details a historical,
architectural or philosophical aspect invoked by this artistic preoccupation.
Recto Verso’s combination of carefully selected artworks, new scholarship and innovative
exhibition design turns a simple gesture into a rich examination of truth, illusion and ways of