Anthony L. Marasco

Prada’s Unlikely Philosophical Hut

Prada’s current show at Palazzo Corner della Regina in Venice is like a Negroni Sbagliato, a cocktail gone wrong that actually tastes good. What is wrong about the show is the basic assumption, that three of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th Century—Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Theodor W. Adorno—had to retire to a hut to experience a turning point in their way of thinking. What still tastes good about the resulting concoction is the installation. I can’t think of anything more delectable than pondering over the nature of these huts while strolling in the chill of one of the most beautiful palaces in Venice.


1. The basic assumption is wrong for two reasons. First, of the three philosophers, only Heidegger and Wittgenstein actually lived in a ‘hut’ for a given period of time. Heidegger would famously spend the summer in a three-room shack in the Dark Forest and Wittgenstein stayed in a hut for a few months in the Fall of 1936 when he sojourned in Norway to fight off a bout of depression. Adorno, on his part, never lived in a shack, and it takes some (considerable) audacity to call his Brentwood bungalow a ‘hut.’ Second, only in the case of Heidegger and Adorno can we say that something of any consequence occurred while in a ‘hut’, and again, as I said, it is highly disputable that Adorno ever lived in a hut. 

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Prada’s Unlikely Philosophical Hut


2. To build a curatorial theory around these three ‘huts’ is audacious in the extreme in terms of intellectual history, as is the attempt to stick the cliché of the ‘primordial hut’ onto this theory. No, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Adorno (especially the urbane, fastidious Adorno!) did not retreat to a ‘hut’ to recover the true meaning of what theory is for—as the abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier famously did when he went back to first principles to shake off the trappings of Baroque architecture. They went to live in shacks, cabins, and ‘bungalows,’ for wholly different reasons and at different times in their intellectual development. Heidegger did use the peace of the Black Forest to write (which also includes, presumably, the anti-Semitic garbage he gathered in his notorious Black Books); Wittgenstein did retreat to a Cabin in Norway (but let’s not forget his best work was written in palaces, mansions, and university halls, or wherever he happened to be; he even helped design a house for his sister that stands out as a masterpiece of modern architecture); and Adorno did learn in Los Angeles what the ‘culture industry’ was going to look like in the Twentieth Century. But as I said, he definitely did not live in a hut, let’s be honest about that. 

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Prada’s Unlikely Philosophical Hut


3. What these three ‘huts’ have in common is not enough to make us forget what is different. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to argue on their intellectual biography that, at crucial moments, these three philosophers had to retire to a hut to frame, or reframe, their theory. Their choice to be there—each summer, during the Fall of 1936, or to escape the Nazis—does not fit an archetype or denote the presence of an ideal type. It seems more like a coincidence. The claim that these tiny structures were ‘Machines à penser’—the title of the exhibition—is true of their occupants, not of the structures. These unusually talented gentlemen would go behaving like human thinking machines wherever they laid their hat. Bad as the intellectual history is, the show does gather some delightful and sometimes even impressive art-pieces and installations, such as the head-vases produced by Goshka Macuga, or the uncanny models made by Mark Riley, to say nothing of the sight of Wittgenstein’s very own walking stick. Too bad the catalog is designed to air the wrongheaded intellectual history at the origins of the curatorial concept and not to display the works of art. Prada should have waited for the installation of the show to produce a catalogue, since the real intellectual frisson of this exhibition is to go in and out of physical and metaphysical huts while strolling in the chill of one of the most ornate and frescoed palaces in the whole of Venice. Definitely worth a visit.

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Prada’s Unlikely Philosophical Hut

Anthony L. Marasco

All images by Mattia Balsamini
Courtesy Fondazione Prada




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