Used to hearing wonders about the Venetian sky that Canaletto painted, it is surprising that the first recommendation of a resident of the Italian city does not point to the sky but to the ground. “There is nothing like the pavement of Venice. Look at the one in San Marcos Square to begin with: it has an absolutely exceptional geometric design, “he says. Didier Guillon on the place that Alfred de Musset baptized as “le plus élégant salon d’Europe”. The founder and current CEO of the swiss cosmetic empire Valmont invites you to take the first steps through the city by following the lines that cross the square, which formerly served to distribute market stalls and organize ceremonial processions, and which today retain a design similar to the one designed by the architect in 1723 Andrea Tirali, who played the contrast of volcanic stone and geometric patterns in white stone to mark a checkerboard and, incidentally, raise the square by approximately one meter.
It was a December day in that square, the epitome of mass tourism, that Guillon, also an art collector, fell in love with the city. “It is not the most original thing in the world, but it was 40 years ago, in the middle of Christmas, the only time of the year when Venice is quiet. We attended a Christmas Mass concert in the church of San Marcos and when I went out to the square, with that music still in my head, I felt a crush that lasts until today ”.
While still looking at the road from time to time, the French-Swiss businessman recommends looking for the great Venetian masters, starting with the Great School of San Rocco. There, in full artistic maturity, Tintoretto left as a legacy his famous paintings on the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, in addition to his San Roque heals the plagued (1549), The healing of the paralytic (1559) and the decoration of the Sala dell’Albergo, among other examples of the pictorial drama of a Venetian who barely left the city until the plague ended his life.
To know the work of another essential Venetian for Guillon, you have to go to the School of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the only school that, together with San Rocco, maintains an uninterrupted activity to this day. It was in this Renaissance temple in the Castello neighborhood where, between 1502 and 1607, the fifteenth century Vittore Carpaccio he painted a cycle of canvases with the stories of the patron saints of the brotherhood, visible in the lower room of the college. It is another of the obligatory stops of this art enthusiast who, in addition to complying with the tiepolos and veroneses of the Ducal Palace, and the bellinis and canalettos from Academy Gallery, recommends visiting some of the contemporary galleries trying to break through, such as Alberta Pane O Michela Rizzo, whose representatives include artists such as Hamish Fulton or Antoni Muntadas.
The contemporary respite is appreciated when climbing the stairs of the Valmont Foundation, directed by Guillon himself, and where the exhibition can be seen until February 27 Alice in Doomeland, a vampirized version of the tale of Lewis Carroll emerged from the imagination of artists Silvano Rubino, Isao y Stephanie Blake, which features works by students at a school in the Bronx, New York, and Didier Guillon himself. The foundation is installed in the Bonvicini Palace (Calle Agnello, 2161), a restored 16th century building that at the end of this year will also function as a residence for artists and clients, such as those in Verbier (Switzerland) and Hydra (Greece). “The idea is for artists to come together to work alongside other artists, like Picasso, Giacometti or Braque did,” explains Guillon.
Bonvicini is an excellent neighbor to others palaces converted into artistic centers, which can be reached by walking. Without going any further – four minutes – the Ca ‘Corner della Regina hosts the Prada Foundation. Built at the beginning of the 18th century in the Santa Croce district, it stands on the ruins of the Gothic building in which Caterina Cornaro (later Queen of Cyprus) was born in 1454, and in 1800 it became the property of Pope Pius VII. Following the rhythm of the times, since 2011 it has hosted temporary exhibitions such as Stop Painting, by Peter Fischli, which until November 21 invites us to reflect on five critical moments for painting in the last 150 years, such as the appearance of photography or the emergence of digital art. Just by ascending the two symmetrical stairs of the foundation, lined with the water inlet, it is worth the visit.
Another foundation, that of Francois Pinault, organizes between its headquarters in Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana a temporary display of the luxury mogul’s art collection. Renovated by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, both buildings host retrospectives such as the one that, until January 9, reviews the work of Bruce Nauman (1941). Through their performances and video installations, the artist from Indiana (USA) plays at distorting his own figure. For example in Walk with Contrapposto, recording from 1968, Nauman walks down a narrow corridor while trying to hold the posture of opposed.
An almost brand new palace
The last artistic foundation that Guillon recommends takes us to the palace Vendramin Grimani, one of the most beautiful in Venice, overlooking the Grand Canal, and headquarters of the Foundation of the Golden Tree. Last May, this 16th century building opened its doors to visitors for the first time, who can now enter the rooms that once inhabited the noble Vendramin and Grimani families, and contemplate the artistic works they collected over the years, as well as curious decorative oddities. The visit includes a traveling exhibition that shows the photographer’s work until November 21 Patrick Tourneboeuf, along with works by Tintoretto and Sebastiano Ricci.
It is not art, but it looks like it, what they cook in Ancient Carampane, where, as their motto says, “no one arrives by chance.” Nor Guillon, who recommends it without hesitation. Its owners, Francos and Adriano, boast of selecting fish and vegetables in the nearby Rialto market, respecting the rhythm of the seasons. In another restaurant with typical cuisine, a stone’s throw from Rialto, Massimo and Silvia strive to merge the best of Venetian cuisine. Is named Cappellari House and it is worth trying the homemade pasta stuffed with raw red prawns, with a warm pea cream base.
Near Rialto it is also easy to find dozens of shops to browse. And although Guillon believes that “Venice is one of those cities that one travels to enjoy and to see, not to buy”, he acknowledges that it has some of the “best shops one could wish for”. Essential on your list is Fondaco dei Tedeschi, former headquarters of German merchants. Especially for the careful selection of quality shops and the splendid views from its terrace, which make the visitor feel like a tiny part of a painting of the four hundred.
The businessman points out on his map two other basic ones for those who want to take something more than a souvenir gondola-shaped: Pot-Pourrì, a small store of clothes and objects for the house, full of Italian firms, and Piedàterre, where since 1952 the mythical friulane have been made by hand, shoes lined with colorful suede, light and sewn entirely in Italy. For the traveler willing to travel to the Murano islandGuillon recommends a visit to the Marina e Susanna Sent sisters and their shop specializing in the design and production of jewelry and decorative objects, which has given the mythical local crystal production a modern feel.
Guillon says goodbye with one last recommendation: get a copy of the guide Soul of Venecia (Juggle editorial), edited in Spanish, in which you can find out how to stay almost alone in the Basilica of San Marcos after the closing of its doors, sleep under a fresco by Tiepolo and other 30 exceptional experiences in Venice. All endorsed by this businessman dedicated to anti-aging products on one of the cities that has made the best crumbs with its own old age.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.