Teatro Manzoni was once one of Milan’s most magnificent movie theaters, a masterpiece of Fascist architecture. It was closed in 2006 for security reasons, but Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda have spent the last three months turning this erstwhile dream palace into the venue for an exhibition called, appropriately enough, Making Dreams: Fendi and the Cinema. Though the duo have a long history of staging grand events (exhibitions at the Met’s Costume Institute, Valentino’s epic envoi in Rome), this may be their most insinuatingly mesmerizing spectacle to date. The bones of the cinema itself lie below transparent walkways that weave vertiginously through the history of the Fendi family’s involvement with the movie industry in Italy.
It’s not such a long story. The focal point of the whole show is Conversation Piece, Luchino Visconti’s 1974 masterpiece. The Fendi sisters contributed Italian screen legend Silvana Mangano’s wardrobe. And they funded the restoration of the film, a version of which is now playing in a bijou little playhouse to one side of the exhibition. Elsewhere, you’ll find a making-of doc by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, a descendant of Visconti’s. Transmission from generation to generation: That’s the Fendis’ story, too. And family becomes more relevant in the saga when you consider how Visconti’s crew functioned as a family for him.
Since Conversation Piece, Fendi has provided furs for movies as diverse as Never Say Never Again and Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. (Not to mention Margot Tenenbaum’s famous coat from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.) As Silvia Venturini Fendi says in her accompanying voice-over, “Creativity has no limits.” Kinmonth and Monfreda are sterling examples. What they manage to do brilliantly is divorce visitors from the nuts-and-bolts outdoors and immerse them in the sensual, enveloping darkness of the moviegoing experience as it once was. It’s a place you want to stay in forever…or at least until October 6, when the Teatro Manzoni goes back to sleep.