Grassi Palace, Venice, Italy

Palazzo Grassi is a Venetian civil building, located in the San Marco district and overlooking the Grand Canal. It is one of the most well-known lagoon buildings, in addition to being the site of art exhibitions worthy of particular interest: it is famous because it is defined as the last patrician palace overlooking the Grand Canal before the collapse of the Serenissima Republic of Venice.

Inaugurated in 2006 and 2009, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana are the two contemporary art museums of the Pinault Collection in Venice. Renovated by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, they present personal and collective exhibitions. Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana aim to share with the public the knowledge and love for contemporary art through the extraordinary Pinault Collection and to strengthen the privileged relationship the institution has developed with artists, especially thanks to works specifically conceived for its exhibition spaces.

The palace stands on a trapezoidal plot of land, purchased in several stages by the Grassi family: at first the latter owned a small group of buildings, purchased in 1732 by the Trivellini brothers by the brothers Zuanne and Angelo Grassi: among these houses there was also the building today known as “Palazzina Grassi”, located on the left of the monumental complex, in which the Grassi settled waiting to find another accommodation. In 1736 they bought a palace belonging to the Michiel family, between 1738 and 1745they came into possession of other surrounding public housing, including the hospice for widows founded by Faustina Michiel. The property thus obtained went from the Grand Canal to Campo San Samuele and Calle Lin. The particular shape of the building site had the advantage of offering a large facade on the canal.

The precise circumstances of the construction of the Palazzo Grassi are unknown. It is assumed, however, that the work began in 1748, thanks to a document that indicates excavation works for the preparation of foundations in the area. It is also believed that the completion of the building dates back to 1772, the year of Paolo Grassi’s death, and therefore almost contemporary to the second phase of the Ca ‘Rezzonico’s work. The grand staircase was decorated with frescoes by Michelangelo Morlaiter and Francesco Zanchi.

The palace during the nineteenth century

The palace between 1840 and 1875
During this period, due to the rapid and complete extinction of the Grassi family, the building underwent a sudden succession of sales which led it to welcome four different owners within its walls.

Transferred to the Venetian commercial company of Spiridione Papadopoli in 1840 by the brothers Angelo and Domenico Grassi, the palace was resold four years later to the opera tenor Antonio Poggi. The latter almost immediately sold it to the Hungarian József Agost Shöfft, an internationally renowned painter, who at the time of his death gave way to his second wife Josephine Lindlau.

The building under the guidance of Simone de Baron Sina
In 1857 the palace was resold to a wealthy Greek financier, Baron Simone de Sina, who made some substantial changes to the general structure of the palace:

to make the structure more stable, he added four columns to the vestibule
he had part of the 18th century decorations in the palace demolished
divided the ballroom on the first floor (thus concealing a fresco of the Canal) to obtain an antechamber decorated by some works by the Austrian painter Christian Griepenkeri

The palace during the twentieth century
In 1908 the heirs of Baron de Sina sold the building to the Swiss industrialist Giovanni Stucky, who after the death in 1910, left the structure in the hands of his son Giancarlo who inserted inside the building: lifts, electrical and heating systems.
Giancarlo Stucky is also responsible for the revaluation of the frescoes by Giambattista Canal, which were finally transferred from the ballroom to the main staircase of the structure.

In 1949, after passing into the hands of the Venetian businessman Vittorio Cini, the building passed to a real estate company belonging to the Italian multinational Snia Viscosaof which Franco Marinotti, one of the most important Italian industrialists of the period and founder of the city of Torviscosa, was the majority shareholder. Such was his belief that no entrepreneur could be complete unless he was supported by a strong passion for art and culture which he founded, financed and managed the International Center of Art and Costume; for this purpose he made some changes to the building: the roofing of the courtyard with a glass window, the replacement of the old floor with inlaid marble and the replacement of the garden with an open-air theater with sunroof, aimed at hosting receptions and fashion and costume shows, conferences and art exhibitions. From 1951 until 1958 important art and costume exhibitions were organized there; when in 1959 the CIACErnst, Dubuffet and numerous others. In 1978 the interest of the property in the promotion and support of the exhibition activity ceased and hence the decision to sell the building.

In 1983 the Fiat decided to buy Palazzo Grassi and entrust the renovations to Gae Aulenti. This decided to insert in the various rooms of the structure, regular moldings that ended in an inclined cornice, allowing the insertion of technical systems of all kinds. In addition, it reinforced the metal structure of the courtyard window with four fake metal doors and had various elements (including fake doors) of the building repainted with an aquatic green color, in harmonious contrast with the pink color of the marmorino. A new technological plant for heating and air conditioning of the building has been built, with heat pumps condensed with lagoon water.

The palace in the 2000s: François Pinault and Tadao Ando
In 2005, the French entrepreneur François Pinault decided to buy Palazzo Grassi in order to be able to exhibit the private collection of contemporary and modern works of art owned by him. To this end, he decided to entrust the Japanese architect Tadao Andō with the renovation and modernization of the structure.

The architect immediately decided to keep the architectural reference points of the structure intact throughout the course of his works, thus guaranteeing the principle of reversibility on his work:

The moldings reflect the style of the walls created by Aulenti. The only difference between the two architectural solutions lies in the fact that Ando decides to straighten them, giving the building a neutral, almost monastic aspect, which according to the artist himself, “would like to refer to a work by Donald Judd “.
The stairs are covered with a simple white marble; unlike the floors, for which the Japanese artist has decided to opt for gray linoleum, which covers the ancient inlaid marbles.
The restoration of some precious original marbles and stuccos was entrusted to the expert hands of some local craftsmen, custodians of the ancient techniques of the Serenissima Republic.
The lighting system consists of 1800 adjustable and adjustable spotlights fixed to hollow steel beams which also house video surveillance devices, presence detectors and emergency lights: it was thus possible to avoid damaging the precious ceilings.
The windows overlooking the Grand Canal have been embellished with internal Venetian blinds.
The window has been provided with a curtain that gives the courtyard a clear, sober and sensual light.
The entrance and ticket office have also undergone changes: the first has been substantially enlarged, while the second has been positioned under the columns of the atrium.


Palazzo Grassi
Built between 1748 and 1772 by architect Giorgio Massari, Palazzo Grassi was the last palace to be built on the Grand Canal before the fall of the Venetian Republic. The main stairwell is frescoed by Michelangelo Morlaiter and Francesco Zanchi, and the ceilings are decorated by the artists Giambattista Canal and Christian Griepenkerl. In 1840, the Grassi family sold the palace, and it passed through the hands of several different owners before becoming the International Centre of Arts and Costume in 1951. In 1983, Palazzo Grassi was bought by Fiat as a space for art and archaeology exhibitions, and the building was adapted by the Milanese architect Gae Aulenti. In 2005, Palazzo Grassi was bought by art collector François Pinault. Renovated by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, it reopened in April 2006 with the exhibition “Where are we going?”, which presented the French collector’s splendid collection of contemporary and modern art for the first time through temporary exhibitions.

Distinguished by two large facades, one front facing the Grand Canal and one side facing the Campo San Samuele, it stands out for its incredible size and its whiteness. It denotes the will of the Grassi family to be publicly recognized as powerful, influential and rich: a sort of status symbol.

The main facade, in a clear neoclassical style, hides a more complex and scenographic plan, inspired more by the Roman model than the Venetian model. In the center, there is a colonnaded courtyard, similar to that of Palazzo Corner, which divides the structure into two blocks: the front one houses four side rooms and a central hall, while the rear one is smaller rooms and a sumptuous decorated staircase by Michelangelo Morlaiter and Fabio Canal, similar in shape to that of Palazzo Pisani Moretta .

Returning to the main front, it is entirely covered in Istrian stone and respects the traditional tripartite arrangement: the windows, with a linear and classical inspiration, are concentrated in a polyphora in each of the noble floors. The holes differ in decoration: those on the first floor are round, while those on the second have sometimes curved, sometimes triangular tympanums. The windows are separated by smooth pilasters culminating in Ionic or Corinthian capitals. It has a water portal divided into three holes, similar to a triumphal arch. The façade is closed by a band with a shelf cornice, which hides the attic.

The equally imposing side facade imitates the main one in style, proposing a Roman-inspired ground portal and a serliana. There are numerous single-lancet windows with or without balcony, arranged neatly in pairs.

Punta Della Dogana
During the fifteenth century, developments in Venice’s commercial activities led to the Sea Customs House, which had previously been near the Arsenal, being transferred to the western point of Dorsoduro. The building as it stands today was completed in 1682, five years before the nearby Basilia of the Salute. Architect Giuiseppe Benoni’s work is characterised by the tower surmounted by a sculptural group representing two Atlases lifting a golden bronze sphere on the top of which is Fortune, which, by turning, indicates the direction of the wind. The building continued to be a customs house, and thus intrinsically linked to the city’s history, until the 1980s. After twenty years of abandonment, the Venice city council announced a tender to transform it into a contemporary art space. The Pinault Collection was awarded the tender in 2007, and entrusted the restoration of the imposing complex to architect Tadao Ando. In June 2009, after 14 months of work, Punta della Dogana reopened to the public and since then has been presenting temporary exhibitions.

Teatrino Di Palazzo Grassi
In 1857 Palazzo Grassi was bought by Baron Simeone De Sina, who decided to create a small garden wtih fountains, scenic designs, columns and pergolas. In 1951, when the International Centre for Arts and Costume was established, the garden was replaced by an open-air theatre, which in the 1960s was covered to host receptions, fashion shows and theatrical performances. With the closure of the International Centre for Arts and Costume in 1983, the theatre became redundant. After the restoration of Palazzo Grassi in 2006, followed by that of Punta della Dogana in 2009, the renovation and transformation of the Teatrino in 2013 represented the third phase of François Pinault’s cultural project in Venice. Conceived by Tadao Ando, Palazzo Grassi’s new Teatrino has a 225-seat auditorium that hosts a rich and varied cultural programme (screenings, concerts, lectures).

The François Pinault Collection is one of the five largest collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. In Venice, François Pinault’s private collection of modern and contemporary art interacts constantly with the city’s extraordinary cultural heritage, with the artists and the curators’ work, as well as with the international art world.

The collection is essentially made up of paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos belonging to the artistic movements of Arte Povera, Minimalism, Post-minimalism and Pop Art.

François Pinault has channeled his passion for contemporary into assembling one of the most important collections in the world today: it now includes more than three thousand works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His approach is fed by his commitment to sharing his passion for art with as broad an audience as possible, and to accompanying artists as they explore new territories.

Since 2006, François Pinault has oriented his cultural project along three axes: presenting exhibitions in Venice, in other institutions and supporting and encouraging up-and-coming artists and art historians.

The Pinault Collection’s museums are housed in two exceptional buildings in Venice: Palazzo Grassi, inaugurated in 2006, and Punta della Dogana, opened in 2009. These sites were renovated and rehabilitated for their new purpose by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, a Pritzker Prize laureate. Works in the Pinault Collection are displayed in exhibitions that often involve the artists directly through specific commissions to create new works in situ. The Teatrino, also designed by Tadao and opened in 2013, welcomes a rich cultural and educational program, organised in collaboration with institutions and universities in Venice and abroad.

In 2021, the new museum of the Pinault Collection will open in Paris, inside the Bourse de Commerce, which will be renovated by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates together with the agency NeM / Niney & Marca Architectes, the agency Pierre-Antoine Gatier and to SETEC Bâtiment. Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec have been appointed to design and choose all the furniture for the Bourse de Commerce.

Works in the Pinault Collection are also regularly presented in exhibitions across the world, including in Paris, Moscow, Lille, Essen and in Stockholm. Solicited by public and private institutions, the Pinault Collection loan many of its works to international exhibitions.

In partnership with the Hauts-de-France region and the city of Lille, François Pinault also founded a residency program in the former mining town. Housed in a former rectory, adapted to its new purpose by the architects of the firm NeM/Niney & Marca Architectes, it was inaugurated in December 2015. The selection of artists-in-residency is made jointly by the Pinault Collection, the DRAC and FRAC Grand Large, Le Fresnoy – Studio National des Arts Contemporains and the Louvre- Lens. After welcoming the American duo Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson (2016), the Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt (2017), the Brazilian artist Lucas Arruda, the French-Moroccan artist Hicham Berrada is currently in residency in Lens. He will be succeeded by the French artist Bertille Bak in summer 2019.

François Pinault founded the Pierre Daix Prize, in homage to his friend who passed away in 2014, the art historian Pierre Daix. It is awarded each year to an exceptional study of modern or contemporary art. In 2019, the prize was given to Rémi Labrusse for his book Préhistoire. L’envers du temps, published by Hazan editions.

In 2019, the Pinault Collection is involved in the sponsorship relating to the restoration of the Victor Hugo’s house in Guernsey, Hauteville House.

Rudolf Stingel conceived this exhibition especially for Palazzo Grassi. Given the utmost freedom of execution, Stingel has completely transformed the museum, filling the entire space with an oriental carpet. Moving beyond the idea of two-dimensionality that is conventionally associated with painting, the exhibition aims to subvert the usual spatial relationship between a painting and viewer.

The carpet evokes the thousand-year history of Venice, the ‘Most Serene Republic’, but also recalls the Middle-European culture so loved by the artist; for example, we are reminded of Sigmund Freud’s early twentieth-century Viennese study. This reference undoubtedly provides a key to interpreting this installation: on entering the ‘labyrinth’, an all-encompassing feeling and sensorial experience transport us towards the transcendence of the Ego, by means of its removal and its ghosts. The nearly thirty paintings exhibited suggest presences that are ‘buried’ in memory, and removed experiences that thrive again. The architectural space becomes an introspective and projective space, silent and welcoming, suitable for meditation: but Stingel’s work alters our visual and spatial perception of it, suggesting a new, rarified and suspenseful atmosphere in which the silver, white and black of the paintings stands out like so many other ‘openings’ on Venice, in an another dimension.