Good Reads: MUDEC United explores the cultural influence of anthropology

The Milanese Museum of Culture’s biannual magazine looks beyond the format of the traditional exhibition catalogue in order to provoke broader cultural conversations

Carlo Antonelli has spent the last three decades working in different pockets of the creative industries. After running cult Italian record label Sugar in the 90s, he went on to edit the Italian editions of Rolling Stone, Wired and GQ. During this period, he was also introduced to film director, and now regular collaborator, Luca Guadagnino.

“We became great friends, and then in 2009 decided to found a film production company, First Sun, together with Silvia Venturini Fendi and two friends,” Antonelli tells CR. “From this, I Am Love with Tilda Swinton was born, followed by Suspiria and Call Me By Your Name, where I was a cultural anthropologist.”

All images: Mudec United

While Antonelli has continued to write on art and culture for magazines including Domus, Fantastic Man and Purple in recent years, his latest venture sees him return to editing for the Milanese Museum of Culture’s new biannual publication, MU – MUDEC United. Based in the former Ansaldo factory in Milan, MUDEC is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of world cultures, preserving and exhibiting the ethno-anthropological heritage of the Milan City Council collections as well as organising international exhibitions.

The idea for MU came from Marina Pugliese, who originally founded the museum in 2015 and later moved to San Francisco to teach at the California College of the Arts. “She came back in 2022 as director of the museum and innovated the museum programme according to a cutting edge vision: she hired a strong scientific committee, improved the public programme and decided to have temporary exhibitions in order to explore crucial issues,” says Antonelli.

“She also decided to stop making catalogues and transform this print material into a hybrid object – part magazine, part catalogue – which would be in conversation with other parts of the culture, written in English. She asked me to be editorial director, and naturally, I said yes.”

Bringing Antonelli’s diverse background to editorial for an anthropological museum, MU is deliberately varied. Each issue takes MUDEC’s current exhibition as a starting point from which to explore broader cultural conversations that extend beyond the confines of the museum walls.

“The involvement of the scientific committee, Marina, the museum staff, and many friends and other collaborators give warmth to this object that will outlive each exhibition and travel far beyond the museum doors. That’s why the subtitle of the magazine is ‘a tribute to outer worlds, aliens and friendships’,” he says.

Designed by studio FM milano, the monographic style publication also draws inspiration from several corporate magazines from 1970s Italy, including Sfera, which was backed by the pharma company Sigma Tau, and Comunita, which was made by Olivetti.

The latest issue is linked to current exhibition Exposure: Art, culture, fashion in and outside the showcase. In ethnographic museums in particular, Antonelli notes the “neutralising” effect of the display case on exhibits, isolating them and depriving them of their original context and function. “The issue includes essays and articles from across the cultural and academic spectrum, artists, fashion designers, philosophers, musicians, all exploring how presentation of an object affects our understanding of it, for better or worse.”

Work has already begun on the third issue of the publication, which will be brought to life hand-in-hand with the museum’s next major exhibition that is as of yet unconfirmed. “Each magazine is a living organism and it takes a while to find its shape … which allows some space for contemplation about content of the next issue,” says Antonelli. “For sure, I would like to slow down and explore on a slightly smaller scale, but this will all depend on how MUDEC’s next exhibition comes together.”

MU – MUDEC United issue two is out now;