Tadao Ando’s project for Punta della Dogana in Venice had to come to terms with the concept of mass tourism being disputed by two opposite forces: heritage and contemporary art. The former attracts the masses by freezing sites and places; the latter attracts the masses by offering a promise of constant change. As Paolo Baratta would put it: heritage looks after the stones of Venice, the bones; cultural institutions worry about how to keep blood running through its veins. On the other hand, tourism in itself is a controversial phenomenon: it represents a huge source of income, especially in Venice, but at the same time it depredates the places it funnels through. Mass tourism raises the paradox of making a valuable place available for the enjoyment of not just a chosen few, but at the same time is a threat to the quality of the place.
Ando’s battle was to negotiate all these forces. His architecture, in principle, should be able to do so: Simple, direct, and clean, it has all attributes that should be good news for heritage advocates. Those same attributes are the perfect neutrality that exhibition spaces tend to demand. The austerity and neatness of Ando’s architecture posits the stones and the blood not as opposing but complementary forces. He just wanted to place a column outside Punta della Dogana as a sign of the new times that were about to start with the transformation of the old structure. And this is where the problems started. His installation presents this story and also communicates to a broader public just how difficult it is to get things done.