France's Pinault unveils modern art gallery in Venice

4th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

French billionaire Francois Pinault unveiled the modern museum Punta della Dogana.

Venice – French billionaire Francois Pinault on Wednesday unveiled the Punta della Dogana, a modern art museum created from a disused customs house at the entrance to Venice's Grand Canal.

"Everyone knows my passion for art," the owner of the Christie's auction house said at a press preview of the contemporary arts centre filling the triangular tip of an island across from Saint Mark's Square.

"Venice gives me the chance to express it forcefully."

The transformation of the 17th-century building by Japanese architect Tadao Ando took just two years after Pinault won a 30-year lease to the site in a high-profile competition with the Guggenheim Foundation, a fixture in the Venice art scene.

In a sometimes bitter contest billed by the French daily Le Figaro as "The Battle of Venice," the Guggenheim fell short on specifics for a permanent collection as well as available funding.

Pinault, 72, whose business empire also includes Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, boasts a collection of some 2,500 works, of which 141 are destined for the Punta della Dogana's permanent collection, and the ability to pay for the project out of his own pocket.

American Keith Haring and Italian Mimmo Paladino, as well as the late Italian artists Alighiero Boetti and Mario Merz, are among the top contemporary artists whose works will be included.

The French collector opened his first museum here in 2006, the 18th-century Palazzo Grassi, also on the Grand Canal and also rehabilitated by Ando.

Describing the Punta della Dogana project as a "risky gamble," Pinault said "the choice of the prestigious architect Ando... was obvious," citing the Japanese designer's "international status, immense talent... and respect for the past."

At a cost of EUR 20 million (USD 28 million), Ando has turned the site covering nearly 5,000 square metres (over 50,000 square feet) into a space that is "both noble and simple, spectacular and discreet," Pinault said.

Ando preserved the elegant 17th-century facade of the building while using skylights to flood the interior with light, accentuating the wood trusses in the ceiling, almost all of them original.

Workmen using a centuries-old technique restored the simple brick walls, which are complemented by Ando's trademark polished concrete panels.

A mezzanine looks down over room-sized installations on the ground floor while offering views of the lagoon through arched windows, including the sight of a banner hoisted by helium-filled balloons reading "Please Francois Pinault Buy My Work."

Curated by American Alison Gingeras and Francesco Bonami of Italy, the centre's first show "Mapping the Studio" features works by celebrated artists such as Cy Twombly, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons, as well as lesser known younger contributors.

One is Italian Maurizio Cattelan, who sculpted nine lifeless figures under sheets from Carrara marble, a stark homage to the victims of the Sicilian mafia.

The same artist takes credit for one of the show's most startling creations -- the headless body of an actual stuffed horse suspended high in the air against a wall as if moving into another dimension.

Works hovering between the Freudian and the guttural appear in various forms, notably a room wall-papered with a genitalia motif by American sculptor Robert Gober, with drawings of screws and other sexual references.

Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping makes a political statement with his "14 June 2002" -- the date Hamid Karzai was elected Afghan president. The work shows women in burkas playing football with US soldiers on a field suspended under a bat-infested cave roof.

The Punta della Dogana opens Saturday on the eve of the Biennale, Venice's biennial art extravaganza running from Sunday to 22 November.

AFP / Expatica

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