The Punta della Dogana which sits discretely alongside Baldassare Longhena’s great Baroque masterpiece, the Santa Maria della Salute, in Venice was built as a Customs House in the late 17th century when Venetian trade and prosperity was at its height. Times have changed and, having been empty for years, the art collector Francois Pinault leased the the property from the City and commissioned the prize-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando who restored the exterior and masterfully reshaped the interiors as a gallery for a changing series of exhibitions of contemporary art, the two floors connected by a long staircase – a modern interpretation of the grand historic Venetian staircases perhaps. Two years ago, the building was full to the brim with Damien Hirst’s ‘Wreck of the Unbelievable’ exhibition, also at the Palazzo Grassi, for the Biennale . This year is a more subdued and thoughtful exhibition ‘Luogo e Segni’ (Place and Signs) linked to memory of places.
Compared to the Damien Hirst exhibition, the current display is more restrained. You enter through Felix Gonzalez-Torres blood curtain reminiscent of red and blood cells, engaging with an artist whose life was cut short with a AIDS-related illness, into a room curated by his friend Roni Horn who has contributed work of her own and work of other artists from her collection. Dialogue is a theme that runs through the exhibitions with the juxtaposition of the works of different artists alongside each other in different rooms, and the juxtaposition of the art against the original brick walls and the concrete additions of Tadao Ando, with a few fireworks including Wu Tsang up in the Belvedere and STURTEVANT’s light installation beneath it, while there are a few works which make you stop and stare, such as the inflated white balloon by Charebel-Joseph H. Boutros and Stephanie Saade, a homage to the Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni and his 1960 works ‘Fiato d’artista’ (Artist’s Breath), comprising balloons filled with his own breath. Here however the balloon is filled with the breath of the two artists as a symbol of love.