Fondazione Prada’s offering has sometimes stood out to me from among the vast range of similar cultural institutions founded to placate the most successful European luxury goods firms and their cultural capital, most of which will be familiar to visitors of cities in France and Italy in particular. The institution’s interdisciplinary exhibition ‘Human Brains’ shown during the Venice Biennale last year, which brought together artists, scientists, and philosophers from Salman Rushdie and Daniel Dennett to Taryn Simon, significantly influenced my academic interest into the philosophy of mind.

I therefore found it strange that this year’s Venice offering, which also attempts to further the discussion between art and science, seemed at times to venture into the bounds of self-parody. The exhibition ‘Everyone Talks About the Weather’ attempts to investigate the role of the weather in art, parsing out what this can apparently tell us about human-made climate change. Through a selection of contemporary and historical artworks (which were only shown as prints), the ideological discourses that have laid the foundations of our industrial society’s destruction of the natural environment are apparently laid bare. The exhibition is introduced by a 1968 poster by German Marxists reading “Everyone talks about the weather. We don’t”. On the other side, a contemporary poster by the artist Anne-Christine Klarmann reads “Everyone talks about the weather. We do too”, coloured in blue rather than red and featuring a depiction of three young female activists rather than the three heroes of socialism. Such a contrast certainly speaks to the development of discourse among the Western extra-parliamentary left over the last 50 years.

In responding to the artworks, the curatorial text however ventures more and more towards connecting art and the climate through less persuasive ways, at times utilizing what might disparagingly called a strange application of psychoanalysis. To offer context to John Constable’s ‘Cloud Study’, the curatorial text proposes that the classical playwright Aristophanes, in his use of clouds to satirize the “airy” state of Athenian philosophy, was demonstrating an implicit vilification of the sky and the air we breathe. It is implied that this vilification supposedly says something interesting about the way humans have disrespected the sky through air pollution. Now, call me daft, but this does not appear to me to be the most compelling or insightful way to explain climate change, perhaps because it ignores the elephant in the room; it is the development of productive forces, not any hatred of clouds, that has caused climate change. I am not sure whether this beats “Bees or no bees; that is our living future’s million-dollar question” or the punning use of the phrase “storm of progress”.

The first conclusion I thought of drawing from this experience is the theoretical basis behind such an exhibition struggles to say something important about climate science, and I would agree that cultural analysis should have little to say with regards to actual climate policy. This is not to say that anything of detriment about the art involved, but rather that it might be worth letting art speak for itself more often. Another conclusion is that this is an example of where the perhaps unwarranted pressure to write sophisticated texts about art, combined with the malaise of an off year in Venice, has inadvertently created a self-referential piece of satire by stretching the basis of the art and science genre into a deflated extreme. It is obviously a far stretch for such an established institution, but could this be intentional? The suggestion itself is funnier than any potential truth of the matter and just adds to the strangeness.

This journey continues with Fondazione Prada’s relatively new headquarters in outskirts of Milan, which seems to transport you into a scene of what could be a Nouvelle Vague film, and not just because it includes a visit to what we are told is Jean-Luc Godard’s real studio. Uncomfortably dressed in what I thought Michel Piccoli would see fit for the hot Italian summer, I join the international crowd of visitors making their way out of Lodi Tibb metro station, past a humming homeless man, stalls selling bootleg football shirts, and a bridge crossing a large rail depot, into the foundation’s centre. The imposing concrete architecture of the renovated former brewery is visually interesting given its geographical context, but it also strongly alienating. Walking through the various spaces, we are made to feel like we are acting. In the basement of the newly named Godard Cinema, we enter Thomas Demand’s grotto photo shoot set; outside, I watch a group of French visitors pose for Instagram in from of a large mirror, spanning the width of the Cinema. The lift on the ground floor of the site’s most impressive building, ‘Torre’, is just a model, and we awkwardly climb stairs to reach, among other items, some lifelike wax figures by Damien Hirst and an installation that allows us to watch back our own movements in a previous room, unaware that we were being filmed. I finish with late brunch at the café, designed by Wes Anderson.

My attention was immediately captured by the cinematic archetypes that I projected onto the visitors. I first walked behind what I might describe as a couple of punks from Camden, then a typically fashionable French family alongside a less so Dutch one. A pair of Birkenstock-wearing hipsters from Berlin, some American’s donning polo shirts, and I (dripping in sweat from my poor attempt at dressing like I was the star of Le Mepris) complete the scene.

I don’t think I can accurately comment on the intentions of the large European luxury brands in creating arts institutions such as Fondazione Prada, and maybe it does not matter whether these shows are primarily used to enhance their reputations as deciders of style and good taste; there could be an element of ‘acting’ involved here, but it’s not like Louis Vuitton is trying to hide the fact that their new museum in Paris, designed by Frank Gehry, is supposed to make you connect their handbags to what are perceived as high-status pursuits such as fine art. It is perhaps more interesting to appreciate the bizarre rituals that constitute curating and visiting fine art exhibitions. Curators do their best to create profound theoretical texts that attempt to find meaning in works, and visitors play the educated, enlightened, fine-art appreciators. They stare profoundly, nod their heads, stroke their chins, and make sure not to smile as they shuffle from room to room. I say this as someone who has worked hard to perfect playing this character.