Knives out for Pinault over resignation of Palazzo Grassi director

After director quits, billionaire accused of grandstanding his private collection



The row in Venice continues to grow, following the surprise resignation of Monique Veaute, the director of Palazzo Grassi in Venice (The Art Newspaper, December 2009, p8). Her departure provoked a storm of criticism of her boss, the French billionaire collector and owner of Christie’s, François Pinault.

Appointed in autumn 2007, Veaute’s contract was not due for renewal until April 2010. She said that her decision to leave early does not reflect tension between herself and Pinault. “I left because I had completed my principal task which was to open the Punta della Dogana (Pinault’s second Venetian museum) in time for the Biennale in June 2009, and to launch the exhibition ‘Mapping the Studio’.” However, she said that she would have considered staying on had Pinault announced a rotating programme of exhibitions over the next two years. “It made no sense for me to be in a museum without new shows for two years.”

Instead, Pinault has announced that “Mapping the Studio”, an exhibition of his own contemporary art collection that is currently occupying both his Venetian spaces, will remain in situ until December 2010.

In 2005, Pinault bought 80% of the 90-year lease on Palazzo Grassi. The municipal casino, which is controlled by Venice City Council, owns the other 20%. In April 2007, Pinault leased the Customs House, Punta della Dogana, from Venice City Council for 30 years, and paid for its restoration by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

Pinault’s exhibition programming has been fiercely criticised by Franco Miracco, spokesman for the Veneto Region.

“[It] is not a museum, it is a showcase for his own collection,” said Miracco. “My suspicion is that, as the owner of Christie’s, he is exerting a double control on the market.”

The art historian Achille Bonito Oliva, a member of the independent scientific committee that oversees the Punta della Dogana, has also declared his opposition to the monopolisation of both spaces by Pinault’s collection. “Now all activity is blocked until 2011…This does not seem sensitive towards the city. It is a personal calculation.”

In a statement made on 8 June 2007, the day that Pinault signed the lease on Punta della Dogana, Venice City Council declared: “The Punta della Dogana will host a centre for contemporary art sustained by the presence of the permanent François Pinault Collection; Palazzo Grassi will conserve, faithful to its tradition, its own vocation as a place dedicated to the presentation of large, temporary shows, according to an alternate programme of 20th-century modern art and the history of great civilisations.”

The contract signed by Pinault for the Punta della Dogana commits him “to pursue a cultural and management project capable of developing synergies and interactions with other structures that have contemporary vocations and are preferably active and present in the city”. It also commits to take into account “programmes of other cultural events in the city of Venice and in particular those of the Venetian Civic Museums”.

Giandomenico Romanelli, director of the Venice Civic Museums Foundation, while declaring himself “not at all disappointed” with Pinault’s achievements so far, did agree that the duration of “‘Mapping the Studio’…is probably a bit too long”.

In a statement defending the Pinault Foundation’s activity in Venice, the Venetian mayor Massimo Cacciari described the criticism as the “delirious ravings” of “low politics”.

But Franco Miracco says that if a change of programme isn’t seen within the next few months, the Veneto Region will lodge a complaint with TAR (Regional Administrative Tribunal) on the grounds that the Pinault Foundation has not respected the terms of the original contract.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Knives out for Pinault over resignation'