In Praise of Doubt at Punta della Dogana

April 10, 2011 – December 31, 2012
Punta della Dogana - Dorsoduro, 2 - Venice

The exhibition In Praise of Doubt offers a thematic presentation exploring the strength and weakness of the human condition, based on a selection of works from the Francois Pinault Foundation Collection.

Drawing on emblematic works from the 1960s – and right up to the most contemporary creations – the exhibition aims to pay homage to doubt in its most dynamic manifestations; through its strength in challenging 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.

The specific architectural nature of Punta della Dogana emphasises this proposition. Each artist is presented in a dedicated area, and yet each is open to the others, as a result of the transparent features and passageways of the building. The evolution as you move from one area to the next helps produce a novel confrontation between the various perspectives (radical, engaged, sensitive, unabashed, etc.)

The exhibition illustrates the passion and commitment of the collector, Francois Pinault, who had the courage to depart from the obvious beaten track. Evidence of this is provided by the artists’ involvement in setting up the exhibition, giving preference to items created in situ, particularly those of Julie Mehretu and Tatiana TrouveÅL, and by the active contribution made by some of them in selecting works for display.

The minimalist approach of sculptor Donald Judd at the entrance to the exhibition,tends to submerge aesthetics in feelings, whereas the distorted trophies of Maurizio Cattelan and David Hammons, which have become symbolic in Punta della Dogana’s first room, endeavour to capture the sense of an unlimited desire to possess; an external indicator of a certain power. In another sequence, Edward Kienholz’s Roxys, the artist’s first installation (1962), and a major milestone in contemporary art history questioning human beings’ unspoken urges. The artist casts a harsh light on these realities by reproducing a brothel and its intrinsic brutality. Paul McCarthy similarly provides an ironic view of the simplistic perception of the “woman as object” and “the conquering male”.

The issue of group violence is tackled in a tutelary figure, with Marcel Broodthaers giving us Décor, depicting leftovers from our theatres of war. Y oung artist Thomas Houseago, exhibited here for the first time, takes up the idea of the human figure in its absurdity.

At the limits of solidity, and extraordinarily fragile, R oni Horn’s Well and Truly (2010) gives us a physical experience that undermines any certainty about identity. Maurizio Cattelan’s All (2008), a group of nine recumbent stone corpses, encourage reflection on individuality being extinguished in death.

Extending these existential questions, Chen Zhen’s installations tackle the ideas of tradition, exile and survival. Then there is Thomas Schütte, whose ghostly figures examine the complexity of relationships between private and subjective space on the one hand, and public, necessarily political, space on the other.

Sigmar Polke’s exceptional assembly, Axial Age, which seems to have found its natural setting at Punta della Dogana, draws on classical references to blur their temporal nature.

By reappropriating Marcel Duchamp’s historic and iconic display, Sturtevant offers a discussion of the issues of an object’s originality, aura and (masculine) power as a work of art. The idea of an object, and of its status in art, are then dealt with in Jeff Koons’s Popeye series, which offers a “pop” view of an ideal life; and, in a completely different way, in the works of Subodh Gupta, who questions multiculturalism and the globalised world in which we live.

Punta della Dogana’s large central room, commonly called “The Cube”, houses one of the two artefacts specially commissioned for the exhibition, that of Julie Mehretu. She has made two large paintings inspired by her research on the history of the city of Venice, its architecture and its networks; and also on art history and R enaissance philosophy, etc.

The other work specially designed and produced for the exhibition is by Tatiana TrouveÅL. Looking at the idea of work, at perceptions of exterior and interior, and at traces of time, the artist has taken over the only area that provides a reminder of the building’s original use, as a customs house for seaborne goods (Venice being a point of entry and exit for merchandise), and has rethought it as a transitory location for her own works and their ghosts.

Bruce N auman’s collection of works draws inspiration from the mental and physical constraints that restrict bodily movements, resulting in unexpected shapes. Adel Abdessemed meanwhile tackles the consequences of movements and of thoughts, often political, thus embodying issues of our era in an artwork.

Finally, Sturtevant has the last word in this journey through the exhibition, with her environment inspired by Felix Gonzalez Torres and the Finite Infinite video (2010) of a dog whose frantic running takes us back to some of our futile obsessions.

Thomas Schütte’s statue Vater Staat, 2010, stands by the entrance to Punta della Dogana, symbolically facing Boy with Frog by Charles R ay. One of the many dialogues this face-to-face elicits is to do with the illusion and transmission of power.

In the wink of an eye you find yourself off piste, observing how love symbols pay their tribute to the Serenissima’s symbolic power: Jeff Koon’s Hanging Heart, 1994-2006 and David Hammons’ wedding gown Forgotten Dream, 2000.

Caroline Bourgeois (from the Press Release)


Wall Drawing, 2006
Barbed wire
9 elements
4 circles  ? cm 172
5 circles ? cm 169
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner Gallery, New York
© Adel Abdessemed
© Palazzo Grassi, photo: ORCH orsenigo_chemollo


Donald JUDD
Untitled (stack), 1966
10 units Galvanized iron
23 x 101,5 x 79 cm each

Untitled, 1977
4 units, stainless steel
148 x 148 x 148 cm each

Untitled, 1967
Galvanized steel
36.8 x 194.3 x 64.8 cm
© ART © Judd Foundation, by SIAE 2011
© Palazzo Grassi, photo: ORCH orsenigo_chemollo


Crystal Landscape of Inner Body, 2000
Crystal, metal, glass
95 x 70 x 190 cm
© C. Zhen by SIAE 2011
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing/Le Moulin
© Palazzo Grassi, photo: ORCH orsenigo_chemollo