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Thread: The Pinault Collection in Venice

  1. #1

    Default The Pinault Collection in Venice

    April 30, 2006
    The Grassi is Greener

    Francois Pinault in front of Cy Twombly's "Coronation of Sesostris" (2000), newly installed in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.

    For days, perfume flacons rattled all over Paris. Seamstresses dropped stitches. Up in the sky, Air France flight attendants abandoned their duty-free carts and strapped themselves in for a bumpy ride. These were just a few of the rumored afterquakes following last year's shock deluxe: François Pinault, the richest art collector in France, had abandoned his plans to build a museum on an island in the Seine. Instead, Pinault would install his collection of modern and contemporary masterpieces at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.

    The Paris project had been in the works for five years. Tadao Ando had prepared a design. The site had been cleared for construction. Then the French government, under assault at the time for the lavish lives supposedly enjoyed by a few prominent officials, got cold feet about proceeding with a project that required public support. Pinault gave the government a deadline to make up its mind. The date passed. Within hours, it seemed, the billionaire had reached an agreement with Paolo Costa, then the mayor of Venice, to move the entire project to the great city on the lagoon. For the prestige of Paris, a city whose embrace of contemporary art had been somewhat halfhearted until the 1990's, the cancellation of the Pinault project delivered a major black eye.

    A second shock: Barely one year has passed between Pinault's decision and the imminent opening, on April 30, of his inaugural show at the Palazzo Grassi. This accelerated timetable is unheard of in Venice, where it ordinarily takes an eternity to arrive at decisions of even minor civic consequence.

    In this astonishingly short span of time, the interior of the palace has been sensitively remodeled, again to a design by Tadao Ando. Alison Gingeras, a brilliant young curator on the staff of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, has put together a breathtaking array of works from Pinault's collection, a selection that ranges chronologically from Mark Rothko to Jeff Koons. The result is likely to upstage the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a museum that has long dominated the field of modern art in Venice. And the focused vision on view may even jolt some of the trustees at the Museum of Modern Art in New York out of the complacency that has enervated their own institution in recent years.

    Shock No. 3: the Palazzo Grassi is only one part of the program Pinault has envisioned for Venice. With the sponsorship of the present mayor, the distinguished philosopher Massimo Caccari, Pinault will also be presenting exhibitions at the Punta della Dogana, the site of the venerable customhouse of Venice. Located at the mouth of the Grand Canal, the Dogana is crowned by the world's most hypnotic weather vane: a bronze figure of Fortune revolving atop a gilded globe. Other museum directors have dreamed for years of leasing this historic property. What has Pinault got that they don't?

    Artémis, Pinault's investment firm, occupies a large town house on Place François I on the Right Bank of Paris, not far from Avenue Montaigne. The entrance, from a courtyard, is out of proportion to the building's facade. A flight of dark gray stone steps leads up to a glass door of exaggerated height and into a lobby on the second floor. On arrival, a visitor is likely to feel like Alice. Where, oh, where is that potion that will make me feel tall enough to reach the doorknob?

    Maybe Gucci makes a spray version. Or Yves Saint Laurent. Or Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Roger & Gallet or any one of the other confidence-building labels owned by the Gucci Group, one of Pinault's many commercial enterprises. Fnac, the department-store chain, is another profitable asset, but it is the luxury brands, combined with a reticent personality, that have conferred on Pinault a mystique enjoyed by few European businessmen.

    Yet this image is an apt one for Venice. It brings to mind the fusion of secrecy, determination and opulence for which the Venetian Republic was celebrated in the years when it dominated trade in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Silks, precious stones and cast metals, fragrant spices and unguents, carpets, lacework and mirrors manufactured by methods that were a state secret — Venice presided over an empire of the senses, a global territory governed as much by the powers of seduction and stimulation as by the insistent Venetian Navy. Ships transporting these luxuries all passed through the Dogana, enriching the city's sumptuous image throughout the centuries when Fortune's winds blew in its favor.

    French restraint, rather than Venetian opulence, rules the interior design of Pinault's Paris office. Though not designed by Ando, the spaces are in harmony with his cool precision. Paintings and sculptures add color to the monochrome enclosures of white walls and gray floors. The art is impeccably installed, yet the effect of calm can nonetheless evoke disquiet for one who grew up with the Romantic notion that art should keep its distance from decoration. If it weren't for the lack of moldings, we could be back in in a Classical age, before paintings detached themselves from walls.

    When the door to Pinault's office opens, a visitor's eye first lights upon a painting by Lucio Fontana. It is an uncommon Fontana: the canvas is white; the single slash in the fabric is vertical. In this strictly regulated environment, where not even a reporter's questions are left to chance, it would be ungracious to dismiss the thought that this prominently placed work is a de facto self-portrait of its owner. It is the picture of an elusive I, a shadowy number 1. An éminence blanche, more absence than presence, the figure in the portrait is nonetheless determined to make his mark. The veiled aggression may even leave scars.

    An art collection is inevitably a self-portrait. It offers insight into areas of subjectivity that a collector might have trouble expressing in other ways. It becomes clear, in the course of a conversation with Pinault, that I would learn more about him by staring at the pictures on the walls than by listening to the words that come out of his mouth. In the hall outside his office, my eye was caught by what looked like a display of butterflies under glass. On closer inspection, the colorful species turned out to be made out of pencil shavings, so I wasn't far wrong. The idea was still metamorphosis, or what Arthur Danto calls the transformation of the commonplace: an ordinary operation has transformed paper-thin slices of wood and colored lead into creatures with rainbow wings.

    That's progress, a word Pinault uses to signify development, or evolution. An artist, a collection, a business — all should progress naturally. A native of Brittany, Pinault began his collection 30 years ago with paintings by Paul Sérusier and other Post-Impressionist artists of that region. The full extent of his progress since then is not publicly known. A French curator approached about working for the Paris museum project met with Pinault every month for a year before learning about the works it might display. The Palazzo Grassi presentation is the first time his collection will be shown.

    Pinault affirms with a quick smile that only a very determined person could cause a project in Venice to be realized with such speed: "You have to be, in business. I am not getting any younger, and we wasted five years in Paris." In the short time allotted for our interview, I find it difficult to draw him out on his philosophy of collecting. This is frustrating: a friend of mine who has spent time with Pinault says that he loves talking to young artists. But why should he allow a reporter to edit his thoughts when his artists will say it all for him?

    Architecture is autobiography, also. A client's choice of designer portrays a particular balance between a desire to communicate and an instinct to hide. At the Palazzo Grassi, Ando has accomplished the exceptional feat of turning receptivity into visual action. Like those of the Fontana, Ando's interiors are recessive but not neutral. In the newly remodeled galleries, the white plaster walls glow with reflected light, as if delighted to be paying attention to others.

    As a fan of Gae Aulenti, I confess to being dismayed when I heard that her previous remodeling of the Palazzo Grassi was going to be substantially dismantled. So I must also confess to feeling disloyal in finding Ando's design a substantial improvement. The interiors have been simplified. Aulenti's signature squared-off quatrefoils and tent-shaped white lighting fixtures are gone. Doorways in the upstairs galleries have been aligned to create classical enfilades. Colors in the enclosed central courtyard have been retained, along with the palace's ornately carved wood ornament, but the atrium is now suffused with light filtered by a large vellum panel suspended beneath the skylights.

    I once spent an hour wandering with Ando around the gardens of Versailles. We were there to attend a ceremony at which he was presented with the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The choice of location seemed to me hilarious, and I couldn't resist asking Ando how he felt about it. He replied that he was pleased to be honored in a country that had worked its way so far beyond the values embodied by the palace.

    At the Palazzo Grassi, Ando has had the opportunity to make a similar statement in visual terms. The last great palace to be built on the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Grassi is a product of Venetian decadence. Carnivals and gambling had replaced shipping and conquest. Ando's minimalist interior conveys the modern transcendence of the inner life. As such, it is an ideal partner for much of the art displayed in the inaugural show. Individual galleries are devoted to work by Rothko, Twombly and Judd. It is a conservative showing: Koons and Hirst, also represented, are by now old masters of the new. Its strength lies in its vision of continuity between postwar and contemporary art.

    Subsequent exhibitions at the Palazzo Grassi will not be limited to works from Pinault's collection. As in previous years, when it was under the patronage of Fiat, the museum will present historical surveys and shows devoted to the work of single artists. The Dogana, which will also be remodeled by Ando, will be reserved for works owned by Pinault. Future plans also include the restoration of a small theater at the rear of the Palazzo Grassi. It will be used for movie and video programs and as an auditorium for conferences. A program for scholarly publications is also taking shape.

    Nationalist sentiments notwithstanding, Pinault's Venetian venture should be seen as part of the continuing process of Europe's self-definition. Geography and history are critical factors here. While Italy is a southern country, the position of Venice on the northern Adriatic Coast places it close to the center of Western Europe. That's partly why the city was able to dominate European trade for so many centuries.

    For much of that time, moreover, Venice regarded itself as a city of the East, the heir to Byzantine glory. Constantinople and Alexandria were major influences on its architecture. The eastern Mediterranean was integral to its identity. These traditions, which once seemed to be exotic relics from the distant past, have assumed new importance at a time when Europe has begun to imagine itself as the "west coast" of Eurasia, a single continent united in its pursuit of self-sufficiency for an emerging post-American age. Luxury trade and cultural tourism have become integral parts of this cosmopolitan reconfiguration. Contemporary art is one of the lenses that bring it into focus.

    From top, Charles Ray's "Aluminum Girl"(2003); Mark Rothko's "No. 20" (1951) and "Untitled (Yellow and Blue)" (1954); Bruce Nauman's "Perfect Door/ Perfect Odor/ Perfect Rodo" (1972); Paul McCarthy's "Mechanical Pig."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    May 1, 2006
    The Debut of a Pinault's Coveted Art Collection, Originally Bound for Paris

    The luxury goods magnate François Pinault at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, where he chose to show about 200 of the 2,500 artworks he owns.

    VENICE, April 27 — For a billionaire looking for somewhere special to display his contemporary-art collection, the venerable Palazzo Grassi on Venice's Grand Canal is not bad for a second best.

    True, François Pinault, the French owner of myriad department stores as well as Christie's, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, had originally planned to build his own $195 million museum, designed by Tadao Ando, on an island in the Seine southwest of Paris. But, last May, after five years of wrestling with red tape, he abandoned the project in frustration.

    "Eternity is for art, not for projects that aim to serve it," he noted at the time.

    So it is in Venice that the publicity-shy mogul is showing part of his vast art collection for the first time. And up to now, even few people in the art world knew what the collection included.

    For this first exhibition of some 200 of his 2,500 artworks, the likes of Picasso, Miró and Picabia have been omitted. Instead, Mr. Pinault has chosen to focus on crucial artists of the last half-century, from Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter and Lucio Fontana to Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

    Few museums could offer such an overview. And, inevitably, the show has whetted the appetite of contemporary-art lovers to discover the rest of his collection.

    For Venice, it is no less a coup. This city may be better known for its Titians and Tintorettos, but it is also home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of modern art and the high-profile Venice Biennale of contemporary art. In fact, Mayor Massimo Cacciari would dearly like to see the entire Pinault collection installed here permanently.

    Mr. Pinault, 69, has other plans. After collecting art for the last 30 years, he noted in the show's catalog, "the desire to possess — born at the moment I first came in contact with art — has been transformed into a profound need to share." Thus, his current idea is to hold exhibitions of different facets of his collection at a "network" of sites around Europe.

    Still, the 18th-century Palazzo Grassi is a good place to start. Over the last two decades, under Fiat's ownership, it has won plaudits for organizing major exhibitions, in many cases tackling broad artistic and historical themes like the Celts, the Etruscans, the Maya and the Greeks. Visitors to Venice have come to expect quality shows here.

    After Mr. Pinault acquired the building last year, he asked Mr. Ando to renovate it. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, a former French culture minister who earlier headed the Georges Pompidou Center, is now director of the palazzo. And Alison Gingeras, a young adjunct curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, has organized the first show, "Where Are We Going?," which runs through Oct. 1.

    Already from the Grand Canal, change is announced by "Your Wave Is," an illuminated filigree by Olafur Eliasson that covers the facade of the palace. Also outside are Mr. Koons's "Balloon Dog (Magenta)" and two bizarre figures by Takashi Murakami. And visible through the building's main doors is Mr. Koons's large "Hanging Heart," a newly completed red heart with golden bows that weighs no less than two tons.

    Two other unusual works complete the introduction to the show. Carl Andre's "37th Piece of Work" covers the courtyard with 1,296 metal plates of different colors and materials, while Piotr Uklanski's "Untitled (Monsieur François Pinault)" comprises a color photograph of a scanned image of the collector's head, in effect a skull to which the artist has added crossbones.

    "It's a sort of vanity, a memento mori," Mr. Pinault said an interview with Paris-Match, adding drolly: "It's one of the possible answers to 'Where Are We Going?' "

    The rest of the exhibition fills two floors of the palazzo, where Mr. Ando has created self-contained spaces for individual artists and for group displays. And while some rooms are small, their windows face the courtyard or the canal, giving, for instance, three large Rothko oils ample breathing space.

    The third floor, which dwells on Minimalism, gives its front gallery to six fine Judd sculptures, which look very much at home. Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman, Dan Flavin and Brice Marden also have their own rooms and, from Mr. Pinault's large collection of Arte Povera, there are works by Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis, Pier Paulo Calzolari, Giuseppe Penone and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

    The front gallery of the second floor is devoted to the eclectic art of Mr. Hirst, including two of his sliced cows preserved in formaldehyde, a steel cabinet lined with colored pills called "Infinity," and "The Fragile Truth," shelves covered by boxes of medicine. Ms. Gingeras has borrowed the show's title from Mr. Hirst's cabinet with animal skeletons, called "Where Are We Going? Where Do We Come From? Is There A Reason?"

    Also presented alone are Mr. Koons and Ms. Sherman (with disturbing photographs of the genitalia of strange mannequins), while Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy and Charles Ray confirm Mr. Pinault's interest in American art. More unexpected, though, is Maurizio Cattelan's "Him," a schoolboy-size figure kneeling and looking into the corner of a room: closer inspection reveals "Him" to be a miniature Adolf Hitler.

    Mr. Pinault has explained that he likes to collect artists in depth, while occasionally selling isolated works to strengthen other parts of his collection. (In June, he sold Robert Rauschenberg's "Rebus" to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for around $30 million.) But Ms. Gingeras noted that he was also continually "pushing toward things he doesn't know."

    Clearly, it helps to be rich. In the catalog, Mr. Pinault recalls the first painting that "deeply affected" him: "I took the painting home with me." And, fascinated by a Mondrian, "I bought it." But now, since he has handed the reins of his corporate empire to his son, François-Henri, art consumes his life. "Living with artworks has led me to question myself more," he writes, "to avoid being a prisoner of my convictions, to break with the comfort of habit."

    Mr. Aillagon, who is charged with planning the Palazzo Grassi's future shows, said they will reach outside Mr. Pinault's collection. This fall, for example, the palace will present "Picasso and the Joie de Vivre," followed next year by an exhibition exploring creativity in 1967 and an Arte Povera show, which will rely on Mr. Pinault's holdings.

    Every two years from 2008 through 2016, Mr. Aillagon is preparing major exhibitions addressing Europe's relations with the world through the ages, starting with Rome and the barbarians and continuing with Christianity and Islam and successively with Europe and the Americas, the Far East and Africa.

    Mr. Pinault's plans for his own collection are less clear. He will be presenting a show of his video and other new-media works in Lille, France, in February, and he is in talks about occupying an old customs building at the Punta della Dogana in Venice. And, by all accounts, he is still buying.

    "I imagine in 10 years time that the François Pinault Foundation will be in a number of different places," Mr. Aillagon said. "It will be the first private network devoted to art."

    The interior of the palazzo with "Vintage Violence, 1,700 Raindrops" by Urs Fisher.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  3. #3
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    I can't find any images of Tadao Ando's work on the Palazzo Grassi.

    Any links / pics?

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