Monday, May 23, 2016

A Passion for Venice: The Ecstasy and the Beauty of La Serenissima

The Venice Biennale opens next week with a frenzy of parties, exhibitions, speeches, and international critiques, and a swathe of water taxis and vaporetti dashing back and forth across the lagoon to Arsenale and Giardini.

For Venice, it’s a heady time, with the crush of journalists, art collectors, art dealers, museum directors, artists, architects, and their followers. The festivities start May 28. This year the focus is on architecture.

I have loved Venice since I first arrived there as a student, delirious and dizzy from the beauty, mystery, art, and architecture and romance. I’m addicted to the strange allure of its Gothic-Revival architecture, and the splash and salty tang of the canals and tide, and hallucinatory reflected light.

Come with me this week, to discover an inspiring new and very insider book on Venice interiors, as well as all the details on the Biennale. The new book, ‘Inside Venice’ is now my essential Venice reference, a remarkable record of historic rooms and baroque splendor.

Most of the Biennale exhibits are open through August, and many are on show through November. No rush. Dare to go in your own sweet time, and explore and discover ideas and controversy through November.

And I have a special recommendation for hotels—the Bauers hotel group, which includes the Venetian hotel Il Palazzo where I stay, close to the water in San Marco. And the Palladio hotel and spa on Giudecca, the ultra-quiet island just across the water.

‘Inside Venice A Private View of the City’s Most Beautiful Interiors’ offers poetic views of historic and modern interiors. These are the ultra-private places that would be accessible only if you have a friend who is a member of the centuries-old Venetian families that still inhabit their majestic and ethereal palaces.

To visit a private palazzo in the late afternoon, with golden light glancing off the Grand Canal, is one of the world’s great experiences. ‘Inside Venice’ offers these up-close views and a sense of being there.

Toto Bergamo Rossi, the author of ‘Inside Venice’ is the director of the Venetian Heritage Foundation, whose mission is to safeguard the Venetian cultural heritage of architecture, music, and fine art.

The book features seventy–two historic Venetian properties, most of them with views of the Grand Canal or historic churches and grand architecture. For some locations, it is a quick look and for others, a reader can wander and meander through dream-like rooms.

Divided into seven chapters highlighting each of Venice’s seven neighborhoods, San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Castello, Dorsoduro, Cannaregio, and Giudecca, Bergamo’s book presents private palazzi never before photographed) and significant interiors, museums, and historic churches and synagogues.

Every property, including chapels that are seldom open, and the grandest palaces, rare museums, and quirky attics and artists’ studios, were photographed exclusively for the book by Jean-François Jaussaud. 

In ‘Inside Venice’, with 310 pages, Mr. Rossi presents the best and most beautiful—showing terraces and canal-side views and grand ballrooms, as well as modernized garrets (Giudecca) and the dramatic Punta della Dogana museum.

The author focuses on history and authenticity--and pages are rich with marble columns, plaster ornamentation, centuries of frescoes and gilded embellishments, sparkling leaded glass windows, eccentric detailing, mosaics, libraries, a sacristy, and ceilings to make a reader dizzy. I loved the range of interiors—and the celebration of joyful baroque exuberance.

In particular, my favorites among many treasures are the breath-taking Chiesa degli Scalzi, the Fortuny headquarters on Giudecca, the Naval Museum, and Palazzo Mocenigo, the textile museum.

M. Jaussaud’s photography is exquisite, with poetic afternoon light reflected on the water, and the subtle allure of morning sunshine gleaming on elaborate gilded mirrors.

Mysterious night-time images along remote canals, summer in fragrant palace gardens, and the handsome modern library of the Giorgio Cini Foundation on San Giorgio Maggiore island, are all captivating. Palazzetto Alvisi Gaggia, with its direct views of Basilica della Salute is sublime, along with distant views of San Giorgio Maggiore by Palladio. Glorious.

Venice Biennale, Architecture, ‘Reporting from the Front’

The Venice Biennale 15th International Architecture Exhibition will take place from May 28 to November 27 in Giardini and Arsenale and in other venues in Venice.

The exhibition will include 88 participants from 37 countries, as well as many collateral events.

American Participation in the Venice Biennale: The Architectural Imagination

Commissioner: Monica Ponce de Leon. Curators: Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de Leon. Exhibitors: Marcelo López-Dinardi and V. Mitch McEwen, A(n) Office, Detroit; Kelly Bair and Kristy Balliet, BairBalliet, Chicago and Columbus.

Greg Lynn, Greg Lynn FORM, Los Angeles.

Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta; Marshall Brown, Marshall Brown Projects, Chicago.

Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith, MOS Architects, New York; Florencia Pita and Jackilin Hah Bloom, Pita & Bloom, Los Angeles.

Albert Pope and Jesús Vassallo, Present Future, Houston; Preston Scott Cohen, Preston Scott Cohen Inc., Cambridge.

Stan Allen, SAA/Stan Allen Architect, New York; Thom Moran, Ellie Abrons, Adam Fure, and Meredith Miller, T+E+A+M, Ann Arbor.

Andrew Zago and Laura Bouwman, Zago Architecture, Los Angeles.

Venue: Giardini

Prizes and People

Focus of this year’s biennale is architecture of the Southern Hemisphere, as well as low-cost architecture and housing.

The Board of la Biennale di Venezia appointed Alejandro Aravena as director of the Architecture Sector, with the specific responsibility of curating the 15th International Architecture Exhibition.

On the occasion of his nomination, Alejandro Aravena said:

“There are several architecture battles that need to be won and several frontiers that need to be expanded in order to improve the quality of the built environment and consequently people’s quality of life. This is what we would like people to come and see at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition: success stories worthy to be told and exemplary cases in which architecture made a difference in social battles and frontiers”.

Highlights of the 2016 Biennale

Biomimicry and The Future: concepts announced for the biennale

For some, the resolution of societal ills will always be found in new technologies: they are, after all, simpler to achieve than social transformation. The Israeli Pavilion, titled “LifeObject: Merging Architecture and Biology,” will be comprised of a large-scale sculptural installation and seven speculative architectural scenarios relating to Israel, each focused on the relationship between biology and architecture.

An emerging new construction technology blends robotics, 3D printing, and biomimicry, and is particularly advanced at Zurich’s ETH university. ETH experts will be working both with the Swiss Pavilion, and with Foster+Partners in this year’s Biennale. Singapore-based architectural practice WOHA will showcase its most innovative designs – based on eco-sensitive buildings that turn skyscrapers into vertical landscapes – in Palazzo Bembo.

The tragic passing of Zaha Hadid will be remembered with a dedicated exhibition at the 16th-century Palazzo Franchetti, showcasing her futuristic designs that were long deemed impossible to build.

A Must-Visit Exhibit on Giudecca

To coincide with the opening of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, Daata Editions and Zuecca Projects present ‘Gentrification’, an exhibition of new commissioned artworks by Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings, 24 May 2016 – 24 August 2016

Zuecca Project Space was founded in 2011 by current director and project supervisor, Alessandro Possati.

‘Gentrification’ centers on the documentation and regeneration of interiors of the historic gay bar.

ZUECCA PROJECT SPACE, Giudecca 33, (near Palladio Hotel).

Where to Stay in Venice During the Biennale

I stay at the Hotel Bauer Il Palazzo near San Marco, or at the Bauer Il Palladio hotel and spa, across the water on Giudecca.

Known as The Bauers, the collection of hotels and accommodation, which includes Bauer L’Hotel and Il Palazzo in San Marco and Villa F on Giudecca, are owned and run by one of the world’s great hoteliers, Francesca Bortolotto Possati.

Francesca, CEO and chairman, manages Bauers L’Hotel and Bauers Il Palazzo in San Marco, and additionally the Bauers Palladio hotel and spa, and Villa F located on Giudecca Island.

The location of Il Palazzo, a fast water-taxi ride to every location of the Biennale, is a definite advantage. It’s in the heart of Venice, within a fast walk to favorite restaurants and only-in-Venice shops like Jesurum.

New is Assouline at the Bauer hotel. Assouline, the publisher of luxury lifestyle and literary works, opened its new boutique on the ground level of the Bauer Hotel. The bookshop is decorated with beautiful baroque wallpaper and hand-painted ceiling beams. All of Assouline’s favorites are here—along with special signed editions of books on Venetian history and art.

Prosper Assouline designed the handsome walnut bookcases and wall shelves. While books take center stage, the antique vintage table, and specially designed light fixtures make the store extremely chic and the books all glow elegantly in the evening.


‘Inside Venice A private View of the City’s Most Beautiful Interiors’ by Toto Bergamo Rossi, with photography by Jean-Francois Jaussaud, and an introduction by James Ivory, and forewords by Diane von Furstenberg and Peter Marino is newly published by Rizzoli.

Photography by Jean-Francois Jaussaud used here with express permission of Rizzoli.

The Bauers Hotels

Photography of the Bauers hotels courtesy of the Bauers.

For more information about the six-month Venice Biennale program of architecture lectures, films, demonstrations, installation and exhibitions:


ArchitectDesign™ said...

Got this book earlier this year and just love it. We're planning our first visit to Venice later this year and I'm very excited -this blog post is really useful, thanks for the recommendations! I had already decided on staying at the Bauer.

Reviving Charm said...

I love this beautiful book. It sits prominently on my coffee table and is a feast for the eyes. I am planning on visiting Italy again this year and plan to make it to Venice again for the La Biennale.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

Thank you so much. I'm so happy this was a helpful and inspiring post.
And I'm thrilled that you are attending the Biennale. It is a magical event--free-form and full of adventure and discovery.
Keep me posted with the news and your experience.
safe and happy travels--DIANE

La Contessa said...

HOW FUN.I have LOST IN ARLES staying with me and SHE picked up THAT BOOK yesterday off my round gold-leaf coffee table which resides in the CUCINA and said,"YOU HAVE THIS BOOK!"I sent her to her ROOM to read whilst she stays here with me.
VENICE is a MAGICAL place............I hope to get back at least once more in my LIFETIME!If not I have THE BOOK and a few others that can take me there in my DREAMS.

lindaraxa said...


I have been to Venice quite a few times but the most memorable was about 20 years ago when I attended a big party at the palazzo Pisani Moretta given by one of my best friends for his 50th birthday. A black tie affair, we arrived in gondolas dressed to the gills and masked. He had brought over a group from Miami and requested they only play Cuban boleros for cocktails. Then up the stairs to the main salon for sitdown dinner for 150. The room had no electricity except for the candle light from the huge chandeliers. We danced the night away after dinner until water taxis came to take us home. We decided to walk and got to our hotel at 6 o'clock in the morning just as the sun was coming up. It was surreal! Never been to a more beautiful party!

I have been circling this book since it came out wondering if it was worth it. i got my answer... thanks for the tips on these new hotels. Have always stayed at the Gritti but it was getting pretty dated last time I was there.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Julieta-

Your party sounds like a dream. How very divine and fabulous.

Every detail sounds magical. I am so happy for you…Venice at 6am is indeed wonderful. And at any time of day or night.

I hope you return to Venice soon. In the meantime, you will find the book I reviewed very rich in detail and interiors and history. It's beautifully produced and it takes a reader on a trip, a private tour of villas and palazzi and churches and chapels that are never open to the public. So happy to hear from you. Be sure to stay in touch--DIANE

Juliet Vonturi said...

Dear Diane, a sumptuous journey, thank you, I love Fortuny's Palazzo Orfei and the Palazzo Mocenigo. My first day in Venice I spent my morning absorbing the intricate and gorgeous silks and velvets of my textile hero! the atmospheric reflections and Venetian colours always inspire, a visual treat, grazie!