Now that the cold weather has started, indoor activities are the things to turn to. Thank goodness, despite its small size and the ever decreasing number of residents, Venice has quite a lot to offer, especially for those into art, design, architecture and books. Locals can benefit from some small advantages, like the fact that all the 'musei civici' (the council museums) are free and that most private foundations have a special day or week reserved to them. The Francois Pinault Foundation opted for a day a week and such day is Wednesday (such a better choice than just a week throughout the year...it demonstrates how the foundation cares about interacting with the city's people and students! So, let me say it, thank you!).
The Foundation has a proper art centre, separated in two stunning venues, the first is Palazzo Grassi, inaugurated in 2006, and the second is Punta della Dogana, inaugurated three years later, in 2009. In addition to these, the foundation also manages the Teatrino Grassi, which organises quite a number of meetings and presentations/art-talks, always free of charge and always very interesting. Both venues were restored by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, but it was really the second venue that created a big fuss. In general, the activities and workshops are many and open to anyone, and for families they also offer lots of labs for children (see their event calendar).
I've always been a frequent visitor since their opening. At the beginning, a sculpture by American artist Charles Ray, which represented a boy facing the San Marco basin and holding a frog, was placed in front of the historical warehouse Punta della Dogana. Well, that statue caused a huge fuss and a local committee did all that was in their power to have it removed. Honestly, I found everything a bit ridiculous as I'm not against changes or novelties just because 'they are not related to our history', although I did agree with the fact it shouldn't have been permanent but exposed exclusively in concomitance with the relative exhibition...
This year I'm lucky because I teach on Wednesdays, which means I only work in mornings! Vito too finishes just before 2 pm, so we take advantage of this time to visit the exhibitions. Last Wednesday we went to Palazzo Grassi, where currently on show there is 'Cows by the water', personal exhibition dedicated to German artist Albert Oehlen. The works are more or less 85, mainly paintings but not only. I appreciated the non-chronological order, which (using their words) 'suggests a syncopated rhythm between various genres and periods, thereby underlining the central role played by music in the artist’s practice. Music emerges as a real metaphor of his work method, where contamination and rhythm, improvisation and repetition, density and harmony of sounds become pictorial gestures.'
Palazzo Grassi has always been important for the city of Venice. Formerly owned by Italian company Fiat, it was already an exhibition venue. If you decide to go, don't forget to stop for a drink and a cicheto at Fiore Piccolo in Calle delle Botteghe, one of the oldest and most traditional osterie in Venice (try the fish fritters). In those years, the 80s and 90s, the area around San Samuele was the place for small galleries and antiquities shops, while now -unfortunately- these activities are obliged to leave space to more commercial and tourism related activities. What a pity!
Anyway, this week we went to Punta della Dogana. Walking there, we were happy to see all the boats and workmen busy setting up the votive bridge that will connect Giglio to Salute, to celebrate the Feast of madonna della Salute (see last year's post on the feast). As previously mentioned, I was never against the restoration works and interventions and I cannot help but remaining impressed by the magnificence of Tadao Ando's project. Really, I think he did a great job and was able to maintain the original feel of historical warehouse, while adding a touch of internationality and contemporaneity and, yes, I find his concrete cube just awesome.
At Punta della Dogana the exhibition is entitled 'Dancing with Myself' and I truly loved it, as there are many photographs of Cindy Sherman's transformations (how great is that woman?!?) and 'Us' by Cattelan, one of the cleverest artists from the Veneto. The venue itself is worth alone a visit, but I have to say that, despite all the critics, I like the collection too! Of course, there are works I prefer to others, but it's always interesting to see what's going on around us. Plus, who doesn't like Gilbert and George, Bruce Nauman and Alighiero Boetti?!
Just in case you were thinking of dining in this area, depending on your budget and taste, there are quite a few options. Cantinone già Schiavi for cicheti is always my first option, then I like Trattoria Ai Cugnai for a homey, traditional meal, while if I have money to spend my choice falls on Riviera. I also like the restaurant hosted inside the Salute Palace Hotel called Bistrò da Cici, which is not even too expensive. By the way, I also think the hotel is a great place to stay and has very good value for money (if you book in advance you may find some great deals)! I got to know this place better through work, because every year I help a fashion company from the Veneto organise the incentive vacations they offer to their clients in Venice and we always book rooms here. Great staff, stunning rooms, great location... and great cocktails!!!!