It’s not that Venice lacks private art collections: There are the Punta Della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi, owned by French luxury commodities magnate Francois Pinault, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, all which show in vaunted architectural environs. But next May, the city will lay claim to a new private art institution, housed in an 18th-century palazzo, with a unique ambition for global collaboration.
Moscow’s V-A-C Foundation—owned by Leonid Mikhelson, recently named Russia’s wealthiest man—will open a four-story exhibition space and artist residency at the Palazzo delle Zattere in Dorsoduro during the Venice Biennale vernissage. This will not, however, be an outpost devoted to the display of Russian art. While the Punta della Dogana focuses almost exclusively on the display of Pinault’s collection and the Guggenheim cycles through a relatively static permanent collection, the V-A-C space will be defined by the opportunities it offers for collaborative production of new exhibitions and new work—by artists, curators, and visitors from across the geopolitical divides of the world.
This vision for cultural diplomacy is embedded in the V-A-C’s structure. On a recent site tour of the Palazzo delle Zattere, the foundation’s Italian director, Teresa Iarocci Mavica, speaks of her years in the Moscow art world and her Neapolitan extraction, proof that the foundation’s employees reflect its multicultural agenda. “Being Italian,” she explains, “one of the most important points was to have a Venetian architect.” To that end, the foundation hired local firm APML Architects, whose founder and principal Alessandro Pedron—born and trained in Venice—is overseeing the comprehensive restoration of the palazzo’s historic details and its conversion into an exhibition space and cultural center.
The Venice overhaul is not V-A-C’s only major building project currently underway, but rather part and parcel of an institutional expansion campaign that sees the safekeeping of local architecture as essential to its mission. (The foundation is also working with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop to turn a historic Moscow power station into its flagship exhibition and education space, slated to open in 2019.) Venetian architecture, exceptional as is, doesn’t need to be adulterated by contemporary flourishes, holds Mavica. Gesturing to the elaborate ceiling frescoes Pedron uncovered during research into the palazzo’s history, she quips: “This is not the place, in my opinion, to come with these big names just because.”