Scotland+Venice Diaries: Art and island hopping

Blog by Clare McAllister and Frances Stacey | 20 Aug 2011

Another scorching week in Venice and, whilst not cooking ourselves in the gallery, we have been filling our free time with visits to permanent collections, a smattering of collateral events and have even had time to squeeze in a day of island hopping in the further reaches of the lagoon.

Firstly we visited the block-busting collections of French business tycoon and prominent art collector, François Pinault. This is on display at the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi. The Dogana is a former customs house situated at the confluence of the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal. It houses an impressive collection of work by blue-chip artists such as Donald Judd, Maurizio Cattelan and Roni Horn. Additionally, the Dogana was recently renovated by Japanese architect and concrete specialist Tadao Ando, so well worth a visit for the building as well.

The Palazzo Grassi is a short hop over the Grand Canal to Campo San Samuele. Again, one finds a wonderfully eclectic and glistening collection, including work by the shiniest of all art stars - Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. It was a great treat to see ‘Pruitt-Igoe Falls’, a 2009 video work by the increasingly prominent French artist Cyprien Gaillard, another pointer towards the diverse nature of Pinault's personal tastes.

Our top recommendation for collateral events this week is the Mexican Pavilion, featuring artist Melanie Smith (English-born but has lived in Mexico City for 20 years). Here one finds a significant and unusual mix of work on display, compiled intriguingly, largely with success. Additionally, the show is housed in a beautifully faded Palazzo, which adds to the pleasure of taking the trip to Canneregio to visit Mexico.

Finally, Monday = Biennale Closed here in Venice so Team Scotland got out of bed early and set off on the vaporetto to explore some of the many islands on the lagoon. The best of these was the tiny green island of Torchello which houses the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, a 7th century monastery featuring a beautiful mosaic of the Madonna; its vibrancysi astounding considering its considerable antiquity. We were lucky enough to stumble upon the island on an Italian public holiday during which the country celebrates Ferragosto (Assumption Day), and thus had the chance to join in the celebrations with the locals who were impeccably dressed for the occasion of a classical music concert, followed by church service. The Italian capacity to look chic and composed in this heat never fails to astound us.

Ciao for now - commiserations on the summer weather, Scottish friends.

Clare & Fran