The Daily Beast celebrated the 53rd Venice Biennale with a party at the venerable Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal, just off San Marco. Co-hosted by editor in chief Tina Brown, Alessandro Benetton, executive deputy chairman of the Benetton Group, and PaceWildenstein gallery owner Arne Glimcher, the Biennale cognoscenti flocked to the historic Ridotto—the place that legendary seducer Giacomo Casanova considered the ideal location for his conquests.
“It’s too bad this sparkling atmosphere in Venice only happens during the Biennale.”
The Ridotto was the first gambling locale in Europe, for hundreds of years a symbol of Venetian decadence. Tonight, the talk of the party was about a gamble of sorts, namely the opening of the city’s old customs house La Dogana, by French billionaire and avid art collector Francois Pinault. This spot is his second art space, following his purchase of Palazzo Grassi two years ago.
Actress Arielle Dombasle, wife of French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, called Venice the most overexposed city in the world, the real star of the Biennale. Dombasle looked like a bona fide star herself; she wore a shimmering trouser suit with black cinched corset belt, and professed to be “absolutely moved by the extraordinary ability of the Dogana’s architect Tadao Ando to understand light, volume, and the sense of place.” She said that the artists on show were united by a common thread that pointed to the end of an era, resonating with strong anxiety about the state of the world.
Lévy, all bouffant hair and immaculately suited, was chatting with Sir Peter Stothard—the elegantly crumpled editor of the Times Literary Supplement and weekly contributor to The Daily Beast—about the fact that when writers visit the world of modern art, “they leave words behind”, so the latter commented. Stothard seemed to be on to something when he said that “this kind of art is not well-represented by words—there are so many bad words attached to good art.” Alessandro Benetton hailed Venice as the place that successfully puts together art of the past and future, and said it was time to revitalize the city with events all year round. He told The Daily Beast, “It’s too bad this sparkling atmosphere in Venice only happens during the Biennale.”
Well, not quite: Marco Müller, director of the Venice Film Festival (September 2 to 12) was huddled in a corner with Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia, who is giving a party at Palazzo Grassi Friday evening. Müller is responsible for the other great cultural event in Venice, and assured me that this year, “there will be a major comeback of Hollywood studios and producers of top-range independent films.” Good news indeed, particularly in the context of the economic downturn, which, incidentally, nobody mentioned.
This was not really surprising in the splendor of the rooms, with guests enjoying delicious antipasti, vegetable and seafood risotto, washed down with prosecco and Bellinis. Lady Helen Windsor and her husband, gallerist Timothy Taylor, were chatting to their friend "Fizzy" Barclay, whose husband is a part owner of the Daily Telegraph, the British newspaper which has led a campaign to reveal details of the expenses scandal among British MPs.
British artist Alison Jackson, famous for her photography and film work with lookalike celebrities, swapped ideas with fellow filmmaker Gerry Fox. He made a brief appearance wearing one of his signature hats, before leaving to put the final touches to his own party, celebrating the launch of his multi-screen film installation Venice in Venice. Unlike Benetton, Fox said he believed the city was “full of the most outrageous festivities throughout the year.”
One of the last guests to arrive was designer and Venice resident Philippe Starck, who admitted that he might not even go to the Biennale, as he’d lived here for 25 years, and found Venice itself “pure romanticism.” Asked about the Art Beast launch, he told his assorted group of friends that everything was moving to the Web: “It’s better to love trees than paper”—only content mattered, not the mode of delivery. “All of civilization is going to de-materialization, it’s going toward more and more intelligence,” he said, which somehow sounded better with his beautiful French accent. At that time of night, he certainly seemed to have all the answers—and would have agreed with co-host Arne Glimcher, who proudly proclaimed in his speech that “newspapers are already an historic event.”
Bettina von Hase is founder/director of the art consultancy Nine AM, and writes about art and culture.