Ads of Sighs
The huge ads proliferating in Venice, now also lit up by night, are not bringing in huge money and stretch the application of the law to the point of illegality
By Enrico Tantucci. Features, Issue 217, October 2010
Published online: 03 October 2010
Since 2008, more and more huge advertisements have appeared in Venice, on palaces up and down the Grand Canal and on the façades of St Mark’s Square, the Biblioteca Marciana, and the Doge’s Palace. Now they are also lit up at night to give the advertisers a bigger bang for their bucks. The price, however, is not high; it costs about €40,000 a month for three years to cover part of Doge’s Palace overlooking the lagoon and connecting with the Bridge of Sighs—less than two pages of advertising in a daily paper. And even with this money coming in, the restoration is still €600,000 short of the €2.8m needed to finish the job.
The city council and the superintendency of architecture for Venice, which has given permission for these ads, are adamant that this is the only way to finance the restoration of historic public buildings in the city as public funds have been very short since the special financing Venice used to get has been diverted to build the barriers between the Adriatic and the lagoon (due to be completed in 2014), and the restoration budget of the ministry of culture has been cut. Despite protests by amenity groups such as Fondo Ambiente Italiano and the Association of Private Committees for Venice, mayor Giorgio Orsoni and superintendent Renata Codello announced last month that they intended to carry on with this method of raising money. The ad spaces on the Biblioteca Marciana and in St Mark’s Square have been granted in return for E3.5m to Plakativ Media, a German company that rents out spaces to agencies and here the ads are already up yet some of the restoration has not even begun.
Is this ghastly defilement of the city’s appearance really necessary or even legal? Slightly over 10 years ago, the bank Credito Bergamasco gave more than E2m over seven years ago to restore the façades of the Doge’s Palace overlooking the water and the Piazzetta. On the scaffolding there was a picture of the building itself, and then of a famous painting by Tiepolo, with the bank’s logo discreetly in the corner, nothing like the Coke, Rolex or Bulgari ads now looming over this, the very heart of the city. The Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, which administers the Doge’s Palace, gets E1.8m a year from the energy company ENI and all they want in exchange is their logo on the labels in the museums and the right to hold cultural and promotional events in the buildings. The Musei Civici have also just signed an agreement with the Fondazione Prada, which will restore the 18th-century Palazzo Corner della Regina so that it can host agreed contemporary art exhibitions there, but with no other advertising benefits. It is possible, therefore, to find money in other ways.
Compare Venice with Florence. In October 2009, the Florentine superintendency allowed a chain of supermarkets, Esselunga—one of the partners in the restoration of the Corridoio Vasariano—to hang a mega-ad on the Ponte Vecchio, but the howl of protest from the Florentines, led by mayor Matteo Renzi, was so loud that it was removed after a few days. Esselunga begged everyone’s pardon and gave its money anyway, while the ministry of culture sent an inspector up from Rome to investigate.
Nothing like this has happened in Venice. And yet the convention of 1924 between the state and city council regarding the administration of the Doge’s Palace by the latter would in fact prohibit these ads. One of its clauses is about protecting the image of the building, “to be shown without objects that in any way might damage its beauty and majesty, mask its virtues, paintings and other characteristics of its history and art”. In addition, article 49 of the new law regarding the patrimony (Beni Culturali), which superintendent Codello invokes often to justify the ads, says: “It is forbidden to affix advertisements on buildings and in areas defined as ‘beni culturali’. The superintendent may, however, allow them if they do not damage the appearance, decorum and public enjoyment of the said building or area.” The current row over these huge advertisements in Venice is precisely over the damage they are doing to enjoyment of these buildings and of the city itself.
An appeal launched by Venice in Peril to Sandro Bondi, Italian Minister of Culture, and Giorgio Orsoni, mayor of Venice
The Venice in Peril Fund, the British Committee for the Preservation of Venice • Norman Foster • Mark Jones, director, Victoria and Albert Museum • Glenn Lowry, director, Museum of Modern Art, New York • Neil MacGregor, director, British Museum • Lars Nittve, director, Moderna Museet, Stockholm • Mikhail Piotrovsky, director, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg • Malcolm Rogers, director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston • Martin Roth, director general, Dresden State Museums
"We appeal to the Italian government to change the legislation that permits huge advertisements on the scaffolding of public buildings. Only ten years ago, Venice was a city without large advertisements. Today, they are proliferating. They hit you in the eye and ruin your experience of one of the most beautiful creations of humankind. Their scale dwarfs the fine detail and proportions of the buildings, and now that they are also illuminated, you cannot escape them even by night, when they are the hardest, brightest lights in town by far.
We ask you to imagine the disappointment that the 17.5m visitors to Venice this year will feel. They come to this iconic city with an image of it in their mind’s eye and instead they see its famous views grotesquely defaced.
To those who say that the money the advertisements bring is necessary to restore those buildings, we remind you that after the great flood of 1966, when Venice was in a much worse state and Italy a much less rich country, no one contemplated using this method to raise funds.
Other ways of financing restoration must be found, otherwise Venice is doomed to be covered in advertisements for the rest of its life because its buildings will always be undergoing work due to their great age and the environmental fragility of the city.
Finally, we remind you that Venice is a Unesco World Heritage Site and that a preceding government of Italy undertook to protect its essential nature in perpetuity when it accepted this nomination."
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