Grand Canal gondola riders gasp at first glimpse of massive sculptures by contemporary artists like Thomas Houseago docked in front of Giorgio Masari’s 1749 neoclassical palace. French billionaire François Pinault's provocative art collection overflows Palazzo Grassi, while clever curation and shameless art-star namedropping are the hallmarks of rotating temporary exhibits. Still, despite the artistic glamour, Tadao Ando's creatively repurposed interior architecture steals the show.
Postmodern architect Gae Aulenti peeled back twee rococo decor to highlight Masari’s muscular classicism in 1985–86, and minimalist master Ando added stage-set drama in 2003–05 with ethereal backlit scrims and strategic spotlighting. Ando's design directs attention to contemporary art, without detracting from baroque ceiling frescoes. Don’t miss the cafe overlooking the Grand Canal, with interiors redesigned by contemporary artists with each new show.
Next door, the Teatrino occupies a space that once served as the palace's garden before it was converted into a theatre. Here, once again, Ando has worked his magic, transforming the interior into a curvaceous, 220-seat, concrete auditorium which now hosts concerts, conferences and film projections.