Contemporary art in Venice

The private collections of François Pinault, Peggy Guggenheim and Miuccia Prada

by 09 September 2013

What do the Pradas, the Pinaults and the Guggenheims all have in common? That would be a shared passion for modern art and a great love for Venice. Home to one of cinema’s most esteemed annual film festivals and a world-renowned art biennale, Venice has long been a playground for those with a taste for the finer things in life.

Palazzo Grassi & Punta della Dogana

Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana have two very different backgrounds; the first, an opulent palace whose deed has passed through the hands of powerful Venetian families, foreign bankers and industrialists, the latter, a former customs warehouse. What they have in common is François Pinault, the French billionaire and philanthropist behind the hugely successful PPR company, which owns luxury brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent.

Not your ‘everyday’ business tycoon, Pinault’s reputation as a serious art aficionado precedes him. He sits at the helm of Christie’s auction house and owns a private art collection estimated at a cool $1.7 billion USD. The François Pinault Foundation first acquired Palazzo Grassi in 2005, commissioning legendary Japanese architect Tadao Ando to renovate the building into a public exhibition space.

Punta della dogana elogio del dubbio donald judd

Palazzo Grassi packs the splendour of a grandiose Neoclassical palace, juxtaposed against provocative and elaborate contemporary works. Ascend the marble staircase and step into a screening room to watch short art-house films by the likes of Francesco Vezzoli, wander into a chamber that has been transformed into a spooky forest (Gunpowder Forest Bubble, Loris Gréad, 2008) and marvel at giant metal sculptures that can go for over $30 million by the incomparable Jeff Koons.

Pinault’s collection rotates between Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana (also remodelled by Tadao), so we recommend getting admission for both. At Punta della Dogana, works are amplified by the sheer dimensions available for them. Maurizio Cattelan’s striking and poignant pieces are often displayed to great effect here, as are Edward Kienholz’s installations.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Mining heiress Peggy Guggenheim was one of the first high profile figures to make Venice her art paradise, settling down in the 18th century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. She counted groundbreaking artists such as Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder as good friends, hosting exhibitions and social events in her home. Her dedication to 20th century art led her to amass one of the largest collections of Cubist, Futurist, Surreal and Abstract masterpieces of the period – “buy a picture a day” was one of her token resolutions.

Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is the perfect place to spend a Venetian afternoon perusing her beloved collected works that include Pablo Picasso’s La Baignade, 1937, several of Jackson Pollock’s paintings such as Eyes in the heat, 1946, and Alchemy, 1947 and Joseph Cornell’s uncanny box art works. Wander through the premises, soak up the sun on the waterfront terrace and pay your respects in the sculpture garden where Peggy’s ashes are interred alongside those of her cherished pets. End your visit by writing down a wish and placing it on the olive tree in the garden, donated by Yoko Ono.

Peggy Guggenheim

Ca' Corner della Regina

Miuccia Prada is one of the most fiercely respected fashion designers in the fashion industry today. The man by her side: Patrizio Bertelli, her business-savvy husband. Together they transformed Prada from a small family business into one of the most critically and financially successful luxury fashion labels. Their shared fascination for modern art led them to form the Prada Foundation in 1995, commissioning contemporary art works that push the limits of the discipline.

There are over 700 works between the Prada Foundation and their own private collection. Last year, Prada Foundation announced its sponsorship of Ca’ Corner della Regina, a splendid, but slowly deteriorating 65,000-square-foot palazzo that stands on the Grand Canal (directly across the way from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Prada and Bertelli have committed to restoring it to its former glory and holding exhibitions with pieces from their collection, which includes works by artists like Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst.

Fondazione Prada

Palazzo Grassi: Campo San Samuele, 3231, Venice, Tel. +39 041 2719 039,

Punta della Dogana: Dorsoduro, 2, Venice, Tel. +39 041 2719 039

Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Dorsoduro, 701, Venice, Tel. +39 041 2405 411

Ca’ Corner della Regina: Calle de Ca’ Corner, Santa Croce, 2215, Venice, Tel. +39 041 8109 161