Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Pinault refuses to collaborate with Guggenheim in Venice

City authorities insist on joint lease for the Customs House


The French billionaire and owner of Christie’s, François Pinault, is refusing to collaborate with the Guggenheim Museum to establish a new modern art museum in Venice—despite a ruling by the city council that the two parties should collaborate.

The Guggenheim and Mr Pinault entered a competition late last year to lease the historic customs house (Punta della Dogana), located on a spur of land between the Giudecca island and the Grand Canal, to create a modern art gallery. In a ruling in January, the council said that the two parties, who both run galleries in the city, should lease the building together.

A committee of experts headed by the art historian Achille Bonito Oliva told Massimo Cacciari, the mayor of Venice, that it could not decide between Mr Pinault and the Guggenheim. Both parties were ranked equally for their proposed design, management plans and “the importance of their art collections”.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Mr Pinault’s artistic director, rejected the city council’s decision. He told The Art Newspaper that: “The idea of a collaboration between the two candidates is, in theory, interesting but unrealistic in practice.”

However, a statement from the Guggenheim was more conciliatory, saying that the committee has “done an excellent job of framing the issues...should it be the decision of mayor Cacciari that the interests of Venice would be best served by a collaboration...we are prepared to participate in the discussion to determine the best path forward.”

Venice city council will now reconsider both proposals and is set to announce its decision at the end of this month.

The Guggenheim museum has hired the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid to design the new gallery in the former customs house. Japanese architect Tadao Ando has been approached to submit plans for Mr Pinault’s proposed gallery.

The Guggenheim Foundation has been in discussion since 1989 with the local authorities to convert the customs house into its second museum in the city.

These negotiations prompted the city of Venice to acquire the lease of the customs house which is owned by the Italian government. The city then announced the competition over the building which pitted the Guggenheim against Mr Pinault.

Mr Pinault abandoned plans to establish a contemporary art museum in Paris in 2005 and instead bought an 80% share in the Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal where rotating displays from his collection of contemporary art are on display.

Mr Pinault’s plan to lease the customs house is backed by mayor Cacciari, while Giancarlo Galan, the president of the Veneto region, is thought to favour the Guggenheim scheme.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 178 March 2007