Will this Grand Canal gallery alternate contemporary art with historic blockbusters?
French retail magnate Francois Pinault has one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary art. He keeps much of it in two venues in Venice: here at Palazzo Grassi, and at the Punta della Dogana.
Solid, rather ungainly Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal was Pinault's first Italian foray; he acquired the pile in 2005. In a departure from its original mandate, recent shows here have drawn almost exclusively on Pinault's own collection. However a 2010 change at the helm of museum management may signal a return to the kind of huge blockbuster exhibitions (the Etruscans, Rome and the Barbarians) which this gallery was known for under its previous owners – car manufacturer Fiat – and in the early Pinault days. I certainly hope so: two major venues devoted to identical themes are rather too much in a small town like Venice.
As at Punta della Dogana, the restoration and makeover of Palazzo Grassi were overseen by Japanese architectural superstar Tadao Ando. In general, I find the Punta much more successful than the Palazzo which I feel has a done-in-a-hurry air to it, and many side-rooms seem pokey and dark. But the glassed-in central courtyard provides a great space for large works, and passing vaporetto passengers are often pleasantly surprised by the playful works exhibited on the pontoon out front on the Grand Canal.
Where to eat & drink
The café at Palazzo Grassi, run by Irina Freguia of the Vecio Fritolin, is a good place to grab a quick bite. Or nip around the back of Palazzo Grassi to Palazzina Grassi, with extravagant decor by Philippe Starck. The groundfloor bar is a wild (though not cheap) place for a drink.