BY Christy Lange in Reviews | 03 JUN 11

Postcard from Venice pt. 4

Private Collections

BY Christy Lange in Reviews | 03 JUN 11

Venice has always been a place where the wealthy display their wealth. Venice’s private art collections on display during the Biennale range from the eccentric to the ostentatious.

Fondazione Prada – Ca’Corner della Regina
The Fondazione Prada has opened in a new location at the Ca’Corner della Regina with a combination of works from the collection and specially commissioned artist-curated rooms. The Italian portion of the collection from the 1950s and 60s offers a chance for some real discoveries – especially the works by Alberto Burri, Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana, and Salvatore Scarpitta.

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Though some of the rooms are overhung and the works can feel crowded on the walls, for the most part Burri’s and Fontana’s raw and grizzled canvases feel at home on the weathered and worn walls of the 18th-century palazzo.

Jeff Koons’ curated room puts his over-the-top porcelain sculpture Faut d’Hiver (1988) across from a table full of 18th-century porcelain figurines form the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It’s a fitting mixture of two different eras of excess.

Don’t miss the room outside next to the courtyard with an installation by Louise Bourgeois. The collection is full of unexpected treasures; one of my favourites is Walter de Maria’s Silver Portrait of Dorian Gray (1965)

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection – ‘Ileana Sonnabend: An Italian Portrait’


It’s refreshing to see a collection of one female collector presenting the collection of another female collector in a show dedicated to Ileana Sonnabend. The show is modestly scaled but Sonnabend’s taste was impeccable and there are a few gems to be found here. It’s hard not to read something Freudian in two of the works in particular: James Rosenquist’s Sliced Bologna (1968) (a painting of a round loaf of said bologna, sliced by a knife, painted on mylar which has also been thinly sliced) and William Wegman’s Cotto (1970).

Francois Pinault Collection – Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana

In the past couple of years, the annual display at the Palazzo Grassi has been an ostentatious collection of the big, the brash, the colourful and the mildly subversive. This year is no exception, though it looks like Pinault may have been trying to even out his collection, which now features newly acquired work from outside the usual Western spheres – surprisingly, from Iran, South Africa, the Ivory Coast, and even Iraq, though it is all seems to be disconcertingly quarantined on a separate floor from the largely Western-based artists.


Does this make up for the fact that of the 41 artists whose works are displayed here, only 4 of those artists are women? It’s an appalling figure, so, no.

That said, there are a few moments – no thanks to the collection or the curation – that transcend the collection’s glaring gaps and flaws, including a room in which El Anatsui’s bottle-cap murals are displayed along with David Hammons’ much subtler, spectral self-portraits for which he pressed his face to the paper. Yto Barrada’s illuminated metal palm tree partially lit with coloured bulbs like a Las Vegas relic, outshines the much flashier works with its perfect mixture of faux-exoticism and exhausted commercialism.


As a whole the display doesn’t coalesce into anything greater than the sum of its parts – and walking through it the only link I could muster was something about ‘the world’, before I realized the show is, in fact titled ‘The World Belongs to You’. So much for surprises.

The highlight: Ger van Elk’s “Hanging Wall” 1968 for giving apt physical manifestation to a feeling we’ve all had while sitting across from someone.

And look closely at the installation of Raymond Pettibon drawings. They had me fooled for more than a few seconds.

The calibre of the work improves at Punta della Dogana, where none of the art work seems to show its age – it all looks as brand new as the brand new carpeting in Marcel Broodthaers’s ‘1975’ installation, Décor: A Conquest by Marcel Broodthaers, XIX century and XX century, (1975), and it all seems oddly drained of any of its original gravitas or subversion. One exception might be Sturtevant’s contributions, which still feel autonomous even in these confines.


Palazzo Fortuny – ‘TRA : Edge of Becoming’

Though some of the original wonder and Wunderkammer-effect of ‘Artempo’ in 2007 is lost, ‘TRA’, the fourth in the series of curated shows at Palazzo Fortuny still beats all the other private collections in inventiveness and eccentricity. It also features a James Turrell installation that you won’t have to wait in line to experience. My favourite room is the former workshop of Mariano Fortuny, where you can see the original theatre maquettes he created, alongside works of contemporary art that blend seamlessly into their surroundings.

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Christy Lange is programme director of Tactical Tech and a contributing editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany.