The Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal in Venice has played host to Henry James, who used it as the setting of The Wings of the Dove; to Isabella Stewart Gardner, who designed her museum in Boston to mimic the space’s splendor; to other members of the Boston Brahmin, who brought over guests such as John Singer Sargent and Robert Browning; and to centuries of Venetian elite, who occupied the opulent confines since it opened in 1465, which was, you know, a few decades before the Italian Christopher Columbus came to America.
And what’s going on at the Palazzo Barbaro these days? Well, it’s hosting the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, which has spaces in Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles, and the English countryside. They seem to have already gotten comfortable—the buzzer for the fourth floor has a Hauser label by it, and if you go upstairs, there’s a Hauser bookstore that’s fully spouted to life. The space already casually has mind-blowing frescos galore—one of the originals at the Palazzo, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s The Glorification of the Barbaro Family, now hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—but now it’s got a few Paul McCarthy sculptures dotted throughout it for good measure.
On Monday, Hauser & Wirth hosted a dinner for its Philip Guston show at the Gallerie dell’Accademia to settle into the digs, with a few hundred guests munching on the Venetian specialties of fried sardines and deeply red risotto, smoking cigarettes off the balcony, the jazz band playing the Great American Songbook, and two Brits having a deeply English conversation about the merits of Benedictine primary schools, when I noticed a slightly twee illustrated map of the 12 Hauser artists with work up around town and realized: the biennale hasn’t even started yet.