A new art palace
It appears in millions of photographs taken by as many tourists who cross the Accademia bridge towards Dorsoduro and are captivated by one of the most beautiful views of Venice. The Grand Canal, the Guggenheim Foundation and, in the background, the dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. But in the foreground there is almost always Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, an example of late Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture overlooking the canal and incredibly surrounded by a park. "The location is truly enviable and we hope to enhance and open the building to the public as much as possible, through art and culture", says Franco Calarota, member of the scientific committee of Art Capital Partners who took over the management from the Institute Veneto of Sciences, Letters and Arts.
The history of the building is the history of some of the most important families in Venice. First the Marcellos, who started its construction in the mid-fifteenth century, then the Gussoni and the Cavalli, who divided up floors and annexes in the sixteenth century. But it was after the "extinction" of the two families that what was then commonly called "il Cavalli" was sold, in 1847, to the young archduke Frederick of Austria who reunified the different properties and started a series of modernization works (gas lighting, heating, running water) shortly before dying at the age of 27. At that time, the Count of Chambord (also known as Henri-Charles-Ferdinand-Marie-Dieudonné d'Artois) bought the palace. The count hired the architect Giambattista Meduna who redesigned it as we know it now. But history, the one with a capital S, still had some cards to play: when Veneto was annexed to Italy in 1866 Chambord was forced to return to France and sell off all his properties. The buyers were Baron Raimondo Franchetti and his young wife Sarah Luisa de Rothschild who took possession of the building in 1878 after exhausting negotiations. For fans of vintage real estate quotes, the price was agreed for 200 thousand lire to be paid in small denominations, about one million euros today, a bargain. Franchetti hired Camillo Boito for the neo-Gothic style renovation which included the construction of the grand staircase but, on the death of the baron, the widow Rothschild decided to sell the whole building to the Federal Credit Institute for the Risorgimento delle Venezie (a blow low for conspiracy theorists) who intervened again to make the headquarters functional.
"The past of this building is complex and fascinating, but we are interested in its future", Calarota aims to transform this building into a top-level exhibition venue that fits into the Venetian cultural circuit together with Palazzo Grassi, the foundations Guggenheim and Cini: “Thanks to a small scientific committee we want to collaborate with important international institutions to propose important exhibitions such as the one inaugurated on 10 May by Jean Dubuffet and Venice organized with the support of the Fondation Dubuffet in Paris. This is not a retrospective, but the story of two major exhibitions that the artist made in the city. The first at Palazzo Grassi, in 1964, when he proposed the cycle of L'Hourloupe, and the second in 1984 when he created the French pavilion of the Biennale ”. One hundred works on display, some of which are sculptures placed in the garden, a rare green space in Venice which thus becomes the protagonist in the new process of valorising Cavalli-Franchetti. Calarota is keen to underline that the event dedicated to Dubuffet is not a unique event that lands in the city on the occasion of the Art Biennale: “We are already working on the next exhibition which will have Giorgio Morandi and Mark Rothko as protagonists”.
The new reference point for art will have a calendar of at least two exhibitions a year to become a cultural pole in a completely renovated context precisely to accommodate the works in the best possible way. In addition, it also aims to be a place to live thanks to the wonderful garden and the café-restaurant overlooking Campo Santo Stefano, open all year round, even in the evening. "We want Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti not only to be the beautiful, more or less voluntary subject of a souvenir photo, but to become an essential stop for those who want to see quality exhibitions and experience a piece of Venetian history, even from the inside", concludes Calarota. The perspective on the Accademia Bridge can finally find a new, original, frame.