Deal struck with the Banca del Gottardo will put Guggenheim's vision for Venice satellite into motion

The money will be divided between improvements to the original Peggy Guggenheim Collection and a feasibility study for the Foundation’s expansion


A deal has been brokered between the Guggenheim Foundation and the Banca del Gottardo, based in Lugano, Switzerland. Under the terms of the agreement, the Swiss bank will provide “considerable”, but as yet undisclosed, sums of money to fund the Guggenheim’s expansion plans in Venice.

In return, the medium-sized bank, which was established in 1957 and is predominantly involved in portfolio management for private clients, will host exhibitions taken from the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice in its own 11-year-old art gallery, the Galleria Gottardo.

The bank, which is seeking to expand into Italy and needs to win approval from Italian authorities to do so, will also have access to the grounds of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for receptions, meetings and social events.

The bank, which is owned by the Rentenanstalt/Swiss Life insurance group, is the eighth largest in Switzerland; its profits rose by 8% to SFr293.2 million (£125.6 million; $184 million) last year.

The Guggenheim will use 40% of the money to finance a study assessing the feasibility of converting the abandoned customs house on the Punta della Dogana de Mar (down the Grand Canal from the current Peggy Guggenheim Collection) into more gallery space.

The remaining 60% of the Banca del Gottardo’s money will be handed over in annual sums for five years, after which the contract between both parties will expire. This second tranche will go towards expansions and renovations of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in which the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is currently held.

The renovations will include rationalising the building’s two entrances into one, increasing the temporary exhibitions space, moving the gift shop, and expanding the administration offices.

The expansion will involve taking control of premises behind the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which are currently owned by the musical foundation, Fondazio Levi, which rents them out. The premises are on ground once intended for a huge 18th-century palace, designed by Lorenzo Boschetti, only a fragment of which was built; Peggy Guggenheim turned this fragment into a museum for her collection in 1949.

The Banca del Gottardo’s Galleria Gottardo was set up partly in response to stipulations requiring the bank’s new Mario Botta-designed building in Lugano to include a certain amount of public space if its size exceeded city council restrictions.

The bank had built up a substantial collection of Swiss art from 1960 to the present day. Its early director, Fernando Garzoni, in particular, was a keen art lover, a specialist in photography, and a close friend of the Swiss photographer, Robert Frank and the Galleria Gottardo, which was established in 1989, is particularly strong in Swiss photography.

Two years ago, when the bank’s future direction was being discussed and the gallery’s existence brought into question, a decision was made to use the gallery to enhance the bank’s image abroad and “express” its international aspirations.

The deal is the first the Guggenheim has brokered with a Swiss institution and much has been made in the museum’s publicity material of Guggenheim family’s Swiss origins: they emigrated to America from Lengnau in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

The director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Philip Ryland, says a minimum of three exhibitions will travel from the Galleria Gottardo to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection during the five years of the arrangement, but only “if appropriate”.

The Guggenheim Foundation, under Thomas Krens’s aggressively expansionist directorship, has already collaborated with a bank, the multinational giant Deutsche Bank, in establishing a Berlin branch of the Guggenheim.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as "The Guggenheim does it again"