Anyone who was anyone in 18th century Venice simply had to have their own palace. And so it was with the Bolognese Grassi family. Contrary to popular thinking, aristocracy isn’t always hereditary. One can sometimes buy one’s way in. So it was with the Grassi and one of the patron’s later acts was to commission a grand dwelling on the Grand Canal.
Engaging the neoclassical architect Giorgio Massari, the builder set to work in 1745 to design the sumptuous building. Completed in 1775, it bore little resemblance to the Byzantine structures elsewhere, or even the Renaissance buildings so prominent in the area.
Located opposite the Ca’ Rezzonico, the facade is imposing and rises up several stories in a large block. Stylistic elements are everywhere on display. Large windows regularly line the entire upper exterior, with none below. The arches display some of the finest carving of any of the structures near St. Mark’s Square.
But the most impressive part is the interior, which now houses numerous works of art. Purchased by the Fiat group in 1983, the museum was enhanced over an already high level. It’s now owned by a French businessman, François Pinault (the owner of Christie’s auction house), who put his private collection on display.
That collection numbers over 2,000 works gathered over a period of 30 years. Owing to the renovations carried out a couple of years ago, the interior space now boasts the best of both worlds. It has the neoclassical look of 18th century Venice combined with the most modern painting display features.
There is ample track lighting and white walls to illuminate the works. There are also areas fed by natural light, those that face the Grand Canal. Many of the works on display are from the past 50 years, including Koons’ sculpture of a balloon dog and his Hanging Heart.
Climbing the grand staircase decorated with hot pink teardrops made of nylon resin, one reaches the second floor, which offers American and European art from 1960-1990. Included are works by Rothko, Flavin, Hirst and Warhol.
There’s also a 600-seat outdoor theater where performances of Vivaldi can be heard that make it easy to imagine listening to their debut.
The palace is easy to find. Simply take a vaporetto, one of Venice’s water taxis, to the San Samuele or Sant Angelo stop.