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Pinault Trumps Guggenheim In Bid for Venice Art Venue

After a long, at times heated bidding war, French billionaire François Pinault was chosen over the New York-based Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to open a contemporary art museum in Venice’s Punta della Dogana, a vacant 17th-century customs house on the Grand Canal.

PARIS—After a long, at times heated bidding war, French billionaire François Pinault was chosen over the New York-based Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to open a contemporary art museum in Venice’s Punta della Dogana, a vacant 17th-century customs house on the Grand Canal.

Luigi Bassetto, head of Venice’s cultural patrimony organization, announced the decision to grant the space to Pinault for a period of 30 years. Pinault’s plan calls for architect Tadao Ando to renovate the triangular, 8,200-square-foot building at an estimated cost of $26 million, with the new museum’s opening scheduled to coincide with the 2009 Venice Biennale. The space will be devoted to rotating exhibitions drawn from Pinault’s collection of some 2,000 contemporary-art pieces. In his bid, Pinault listed 141 of the works that will comprise the collection.

Pinault, whose business assets include Christie’s, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, already has a selection of art on display at Venice’s long-vacant Palazzo Grassi, which he reopened as a contemporary art exhibition space last year. Pinault purchased the 18th-century building in 2005 after canceling plans to build a $195 million contemporary art foundation on Ile Seguin, an island on the Seine outside Paris (ANL, 5/9/06; 5/24/05).

Interests Collide

It was then that Pinault became interested in the empty customs house as well, according to Jean-Jacques Aillagon, director of Palazzo Grassi and a former French culture minister. The Guggenheim Foundation, which operates the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice in addition to museums in New York, Las Vegas, Berlin and Bilbao, Spain, had sought to take over the Punta della Dogana in the late 1990s, but was not able to work out a deal. Then, last September, the Guggenheim submitted a proposal for a contemporary art museum at the site to be designed by Zaha Hadid.

The possibility of a joint Pinault-Guggenheim project arose briefly but was scuttled after Alberto Rigotti, CEO of the bank ABM Merchant and a backer of the Guggenheim bid, compared Pinault in Le Monde to “a traveling salesman” looking for “a place to show his merchandise.” In a statement, a committee of Venetian officials explained their choice of Pinault by citing a delay by the Guggenheim to list works it would provide for the collection.

Guggenheim director Thomas Krens characterized his bid as “very lively,” telling ARTnewsletter that the Guggenheim had been willing to show some 4,000 works from the collection, including examples of Arte Povera. “If they decided for Pinault,” he says, “I’m sure there were very good reasons. I can hardly say I’m crushed.” Krens notes that “there are still many opportunities for us in Venice, and in [other places in] Italy.”

Aillagon says Pinault “looks forward to working with all the players in Venice’s art world, including the Guggenheim.”

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