Thomas Krens was right, once again. The young Director of the Foundation, that (with the five museums of New York, New York SoHo, Bilbao, Berlin and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice) represents one of the most powerful presence in the world of art, finally revealed the skin of bureaucracy which locked the 17th Century building since 1988. The wonderful structure of the Punta della Dogana in Venice will soon become a new museum (dedicated to Peggy's Italian collection - Vedova, Santomaso, Tancredi, Bacci purchased when, in 1949 she bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and when she used to live in Venice) and a new Kunsthaus for Contemporary art and international exhibitions.
The official announcement is on December 9, in Rome: in the presence of the Italian Culture Minister Giovanna Melandri, Thomas Krens, Philip Rylands (Deputy Director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection), Chiara Barbieri and Liesbeth Bollen (from the Collection's Permanent Staff), Mara Ruiz (Councillor for the Culture of the Venetian municipality), Vittorio Gregotti (world-famous architect - responsible for the restauration and of the executive project) and Alessandro D'Urso (lawyer and mind of the project) finally, during the Press Conference, told what was waited from more than ten years.
Who had the possibility to stay some time in Venice, and to read the local newspapers (Il Gazzettino, for example), well knows that the one about Punta della Dogana is an "old" story. Actually, every three or four months, the first pages of the newspapers brought rumors about the negotiations between the Guggenheim Foundation and the municipality for the running of the Punta. This is a sign of the public value of this news (and not only interesting for art historians or artists). The official version makes the debate starting in 1988 when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was looking for a new space to improve their museum spaces, and when they pointed out the building behind the church of S. Maria della Salute by Palladio. It was the ideal place to figure out a new contemporary art museum. The architectural structure is very interesting: the building is a one floor space composed of huge, tall rooms (almost 10 meters), in the middle of the Lagoon, just between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal. The Punta, designed by Benori in 1677, and decorated with a big golden sphere, reflecting the lights of S. Marco square, seemed to be the perfect environment for the services of a modern museum : reception and tickets' desks, informations, bookshops, a beautiful terrace for parties and public relations events (a model we are used to through the Guggenheim museums - Palazzo Venier dei Leoni has been, during Peggy's life, and is still, an important meeting point in Venice).
But it's not just a business affaire. This new project is conceptually interesting. This new structure could follow the new parameters in displaying contemporary works of art. Because art is more and more asking for SPACE (the opportunity to display and to produce works of art in big dimensions - where the artist is not influenced by small rooms - the "new" Tate Gallery, opening in May 2000, is a proper example) the huge storehouses of the Dogana da Mar would be an extraordinary chance of confrontation. The problem of SPACE in art is not a new problem. Alberto Giacometti used to ask detailed informations in displaying his scultures: under his conception the SPACE around the slender figures is actually what is on show, and a Curator has to respect this "right of space" to show them properly. We could talk about Oldenburg's exhibit in Bilbao, or Alberto Burri's at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome as well. We could talk about the recent restaurations (and re-organizations) of the roman historic galleries (Spada, Borghese, Doria Pamphili).
A big question, so. The Guggenheim proposal for this new project is a flexible space, with mobile wooden walls that could be changed and, in this way, that could fit to every works of art. Vittorio Gregotti's speech (the architect) at the Press Conference has been clear: "we will make as little as possible". Second point to think about. The historic building of Punta della Dogana will be, as soon as it will be restaurated (now it has got two floors and it definitely needs works, both inside and outside) will be an alternative proposal to the last opened museum of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation: the Bilbao Museum, in Spain. It will be a light and homogenous architectural structure with geometrical plan rooms and, probably, natural light (when possible...); the museum by Frank Gehry is a heavy building, post-modernally monumental, with an invadent structure which strongly modifies the perception of the displayed works. Mine is not a judgement: both buildings serves Art, proposing a "neutral" environment or an object-museum - strong work of art on its own - in which the guest has to look, at the same time, both at the works and at the building.
Different examples and proposals could be find in the different recent interpretations of the word "museum" (the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, the PS1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island...); alternative ideas will both live inside the Guggenheim Family.
Italy will be soon honored to have (the executive project will be finished in May 2000 by the Studio Gregotti Associati International - the prevision about funds is about 25 billions liras and it's a very small amount of money) one of the most important museums of Europe and, at the moment, it seems to be the first reference in Europe of the American Foundation (look at the Francesco Clemente's exhibit in New York...) maybe after the failure of the relationships with France (ANSA agency's news - from last summer).
Even if the opening of the Museo Guggenheim Venezia d'Arte Contemporanea - this is the name - is still far there's something amazing, for our culture and for our Arts, in this announcement.