Interview: Palazzo Grassi’s Director on Teatrino, Francois Pinault Collection

To showcase his art collection, French collector Francois Pinault restored the 18th centuryPalazzo Grassi in 2006 and the nearby Punta della Dogana in 2009, transforming them into exhibition spaces for the François Pinault Collection. Now, the rehabilitation of theTeatrino marks the third step of the art collector’s ambitious cultural project in Venice.

Redesigned by top Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the 1,000 square-meter Teatrino offers two foyers and a 225-seat auditorium that will allow for programs of “moving images” (films by artists as well as video installations) and various other cultural activities. The Teatrino officially opens its doors to the public on Thursday, on the same day that Punta della Dogana opens a new exhibition “Prima Materia,” so BLOUIN ARTINFO caught up last week with Martin Bethenod, the director of the three art spaces to discuss its latest project and the Francois Pinault Collection in general.

You are just celebrating three years heading Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana. What have been the highlights so far?

We’ve had six exhibitions between the two venues, but the actual numbers are not important. What I think is important is that we’ve made our programming more readable with a more regular rhythm. Unfortunately, today there is a crazy development for museums that dictates you must constantly have temporary exhibitions, events, vernissage, new projects, to grab the attention of the media and the public. It has had some positive effect, prompting the museums to open themselves much more and target a wider audience, but it has also some drawbacks; this dimension of ephemeral and superficiality of relationship with art. So we tried to have both and articulate the long-term and more short-term event programs. Punta della Dogana is devoted to the longer term with one exhibition every two years, coinciding with every Venice Biennale. It’s a complete rehanging, while Palazo Grassi is devoted to a quicker rhythm of exhibitions, two a year that alternate between group shows with a distinct point of view — the last one was video and cinema — and, as now, a solo exhibition with a carte blanche given to an artist, currently Rudolf Stingel.

Let’s talk about Prima Materia, the new exhibition that opens Thursday at Punta della Dogana...

Yes, it’s a new presentation of the collection co-curated by Caroline Bourgeois, who also curated the previous show, with Michael Govan, who is the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The idea was to propose a double point of view on the collection, man-woman, Europe and the US, in particular the West Coast and the Pacific. One of the highlights of the show is a dialogue between important works by two artistic movements of the ‘60s-‘70s, one happening in Italy, Arte Povera, and one happening in Japan, Mono-Ha. It’s very interesting to see how artists were working on the same idea of poor and ephemeral materials. In total, there are about 80 works from 30 artists from the ‘60s to a younger generation, with two young artists from Los Angeles in their early 30s, Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch.

How would you define the François Pinault Collection?

It’s a collection in motion, constantly evolving. There are new pieces bought and commissioned. Every exhibition is an opportunity to commission new works. In the last three years, I think we’ve commissioned more than 15 very important installations. So far in Venice we’ve shown about 700 artworks from the collection, and outside of Venice we’ve also shown maybe 200 works. Mr. Pinault is very much present at every step of the process; he’s not only involved, he’s the motor of this collection. There is not one artwork that comes into the Collection which was not chosen by him.

The collection has a very strong base of art from the ‘60s and ‘70s, with important historic movements like Minimal Art, like Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin. But while it is his own taste, he doesn’t want to become prisoner in his own taste. It’s not a collection of samplings, more a collection based on important movements and ensembles of artists. There is definitely a long-term commitment to a group of artists and their works.

You’re saying this collection is in movement, so where is it heading right now?

In the last few years, it’s clear Middle East and Far East artists have been a very important direction as well as younger artists from Europe and the US, especially California. There is a strong presence of Chinese artists from the ‘90s onward, such as Chen Zhen, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Huan, and Cao Fai, as well as major works by Japanese artists, from Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Susumu Koshimizu to Takashi Murakami.

Thursday will also be the official opening the Teatrino. What are your plans for this auditorium?

A museum is not just a nice box to put delectable artworks but a platform to build cultural programs. We’ve been working for the last two years on building our programs and audience. We’ve already been organizing on a smaller scale a lot of cultural events and this auditorium will allow us to bring this up to a higher standard and wider audience. We will also be able to do things we couldn’t do before; screen artist films from the collection, and organize performances. For the opening, we will show films by Philippe Parreno, Anri Sala, Loris Gréaud, films that are made for a real cinema theater experience. We will also start screening films that are not in the collection like art documentaries.

How will this dovetail with Venice Film Festival?

We will be showcasing a festival of short films, called Circuit Off, during the Mostra.

Do you currently have any plans for exhibitions from the Pinault Collection outside Venice?

The next one will be in Paris at the Conciergerie in October. It’s timed to coincide with the opening of FIAC and the theme of the exhibition is on the idea of physical and mental imprisonment.