In a surprise volte-face, the town council of Venice has abandoned its plan, announced in March, to sell a majority share in the Palazzo Grassi to the industrialist, Guido Angelo Terruzzi (No. 157, April 2005, p.5) and is now in advanced negotiations with the French financier, François Pinault, owner of Christie’s, of various department stores, of Gucci, Saint Laurent, and other interests.
While Mr Terruzzi would have brought a major collection of 18th-century Venetian paintings to the palazzo, which was turned into an exhibition centre by Fiat in the 1980s, Mr Pinault owns a very large collection of 20th-century and contemporary art that he planned to show in a private museum to be built in Paris. In February he ran into serious objections by environmental lobby groups to this project.
The Corriere della Sera reported that Mr Pinault intended to put works of art only in the as-yet-unrestored theatre of the palazzo, which would, however, suggest that he does not intend to bring his collection to Venice and raises the question of what would take place in the rest of the building. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, former French minister of culture and president of the Centre Pompidou, is likely to have at least an important advisory role in the future of Palazzo Grassi.
According to the Corriere della Sera, Mr Pinault is paying E30 million ($39 million) for an 80% shareholding in the palazzo. The remaining 20% remains with the town council and, as we went to press, the finalisation of the deal was set for 28 April when the newly elected mayor and council take over.
Last year the outgoing mayor Paolo Costa was disappointed in his long-standing attempt to bring a branch museum of the New York Guggenheim to Venice. This likely new deal with François Pinault must be seen as a substitute. At the time of writing, Mr Pinault was appearing in a Californian court in connection with the Executive Life affair.