Any lingering doubt that Francois Pinault is a force to be reckoned within the art world has been laid to rest with the opening of his foundation's latest show 'In Praise of Doubt' at the Punta della Dogana in Venice.
The museum was opened in 2009 by Pinault both as a way to showcase his immense personal art collection and to complement the artistic programming of his other Venetian museum, the grand Palazzo Grassi which opened in 2006.
Having two museums in the same city is a little unusual, but Pinault's goal is to seamlessly display different aspects of his collection by providing a continuous cultural programme of workshops, lectures, meetings and displays. This is achieved by keeping Palazzo Grassi open while Punta della Dogana installs a new collection, and vice versa, though the former will tend to showcase shorter 'event' exhibitions, while the latter will concentrate on longer term presentations.
For 'In Praise of Doubt', curator Caroline Bourgeois juxtaposes key pieces from the 1960s from Pinault's collection and new works to raise what she hopes are timely questions about cultural identity, and how private space relates to the space occupied by artwork.
The introspective and undoubtedly ambitious nature of Bourgeois's concern is most clearly articulated in new works commissioned specifically for the site by Julie Mehretu (two large pieces inspired by the history and architecture of Venice) and Tatiana Trouvé. These are shown alongside a stable of twenty odd artists including Elaine Sturtevant and Chen Zhen.
Bourgeois says the exhibition challenges prejudices, conventions and certainties. 'The idea is to open up the field of possible questions in order to push back the limits each of us imposes, and to try and refocus our view of ourselves and the surrounding world.'
Clever use is made of the physical space of the Punta della Dogana. Each artist is presented in a dedicated area (indeed, the artists were actively involved in the setting up of their respective spaces), but through a mix of transparent features and linking passageways, the pieces - from the distorted silhouettes of the nine stone corpses of Maurizio Cattelan to Donald Judd's stark minimalism and Jeff Koons' Popeye series - are very subtly set off against each other for an intriguing narrative.
The reimagining of museums as being more than just a stage for showcasing artwork is emphasized by Martin Bethenod, the director of both Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana. The Pinault museums, he points out, are 'also places for creation, the meeting, sharing, educating, researching and intermingling of participants, who are open to their environments, local and international, urbane and cultural.' Living interactive forums, in other words.
And if the appealingly odd and wonderfully eclectic pieces shown at Punta della Dogana are any indication, there is little doubt, paradoxically, that 'In Praise of Doubt' bodes well for Pinault's greater ambition - which is that art should be transformative and, above all, transcend its physical setting.