The exhibition on the human brain in Venice

The Prada Foundation in Venice has recently inaugurated the third chapter of an amazing exhibition. In all senses. We’re talking about “Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea”, a monumental exhibition that uses ancient works and documents to offer an unexpected journey into the labyrinth of the human brain

There are obviously many exhibitions in the lagoon during the Biennale, but only very few manage to reach such a high level that it can convey the feeling of intimate satisfaction that is typical of things performed with a certain criterion. The exhibition, set up at the Prada Foundation’s Venetian headquarters, is certainly one of these: It starts with an idea it is the third and penultimate chapter in the cycle of interdisciplinary reviews Human brains, dedicated to neuroscience. And so, after a first online conference held in 2020 (Culture and consciousness), and another appointment organized in 2021 (Conversations), Palazzo Ca ‘Corner della Regina is again the host an ambitious project aimed at discovering our brainas well as ourselves.

The conversation machine.  Videos, interviews and orchestration by Taryn Simon.  Installation view at Fondazione Prada, Venice.  Photo by Marco Cappelletti
The conversation machine. Videos, interviews and orchestration by Taryn Simon. Installation view at Fondazione Prada, Venice. Photo by Marco Cappelletti


Stretching across all three floors of the historic lagoon building, the exhibition makes use of -one staging apparatus from a curatorial textbook (impeccable, it is both technically and from the context of the exhibition concept), to invite the audience to embark on a fantastic journey that can not be indifferent. The itinerary, devised by curator Udo Kittelmann, therefore starts from the ground floor with a series of films of surgical operations and experiments that trigger a first close contact with our body’s most important organ. Each video is arranged in front of some sessions, which with an explicit reference to the stands of the classical medical amphitheaters prepare the viewer to identify with the role of a curious student interested in understanding the functions and mechanisms of the human brain. Following this introductory parenthesis, we begin to get to the heart of the exhibition by entering the first noble floor. To welcome the visitor is a long maze that extends to the top floor, consisting of corridors, rooms and niches used to host paintings, tools, documents that reveal centuries-old attempts to understand our brain. Each object is supported by a literary contribution from authors who have been asked to weave stimulating and unpredictable narratives inspired by that artifact. The lyrics are written by 32 internationally acclaimed authors – among whom Salman Rushdie, Esther Freud and Paolo Giordano stand out – the lyrics are read by George Guidall, the famous narrator of numerous audio books. And then we continue step by step through tunnels and paths that increasingly resemble real brain cavities, to the discovery of incredible works and objects, among which we remember the 3D-printed copy of two Sumerian cylinders showing the oldest cuneiform transcription of a dream (made by King Gudea between 2120 and 2110 BC), illuminated manuscripts from the 14th century AD. and some autographed drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. And then again: an Andean knife used for sacrificial interventions and ceremonies (dated between the 13th and 14th centuries), Descartes texts on the pineal gland, an anatomical model from the 19th century lent by the La Specola Museum in Florence and the hypnotic painting by Hieronymus Bosch with the title The extraction of the stone of madness.

Human brains.  It starts with an idea.  Exhibition at the Fondazione Prada, Venice 2022. Photo Marco Cappelletti
Human brains. It starts with an idea. Exhibition at the Fondazione Prada, Venice 2022. Photo Marco Cappelletti


After reaching the top floor of Ca ‘Corner della Regina, the exhibition ends with the vision of a mammoth intervention entitled The conversation machine. Produced by Fondazione Prada, and commissioned by the American artist Taryn Simon, the work is realized through a site-specific installation that includes 32 monitors, within which 36 philosophers and neuroscientists alternate. Directly, as if they all share the same time and space, theorists thus become a metaphor for our brain connections often switching spaces between them or exhibiting objects in a flashing way like sudden intuitions. Extracted from a total length of 140 hours, the selected clips finally give life to a choral work consisting of silences, distractions and confusing moments that inevitably also make us think of the fragility of such a predominant organ.


Open until 27 November 2022, the exhibition will ideally continue Preservation of the brain: the final appointment of Human brains which will be presented next autumn in the same exhibition space. An ambitious project, therefore, that aims to shed light on the human brain and to focus attention on its significance throughout human history, since, as Miuccia Prada herself says, “we are convinced that talking about the human brain means talking about the human being. Focusing on the uniqueness of our brain allows us to understand the impact that scientific research has on our lives and more generally on the development of culture.“.

Valerio Veneruso

Art events underway in Venice

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