Art Advisor Maria Brito Breaks Down Her Perfect European Vacation in Venice and Málaga
The New York-based art advisor, curator, and author gives great travel advice, too.
Maria Brito first visited Venice as a teenager, on a monthlong trip to Europe that was a 15th birthday present from her parents. “Going into this incredible city built on water with palaces and the most incredible Renaissance art,” she said, “was really dreamlike.”
Nowadays, the Venezuelan-born, New York-based art advisor, curator, and How Creativity Rules The World author visits the city at least every two years to attend the Venice Biennale—the world’s oldest exhibition of contemporary art. “I don’t think it has changed at all,” she said. “I mean, it’s touristic, but it has remained so authentic because [things there are] really from the 12th century. It’s, like, falling apart. And it’s truly magical.”
She also appreciates the equally historic if lesser-known magic of Málaga, in Andalusia, Spain. “It’s a city that is around 3,000 years old, with Islamic palaces next to modern buildings. It’s hard to find a place in the world that has such a patchwork of cultures,” she said. “It’s a very interesting city that has a really robust cultural scene as well.”
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Buon viaggio! Buen viaje!
VENICE: Days 1–4
See and Do: “I have been in this industry for 13 years, and, you know, it’s art fair after art fair and museum show after gallery show. Everything seems to look the same at some point. But the Venice Biennale is really special.” The world’s oldest exhibition of contemporary art is back for its 59th edition (until November 27, 2022)—its first since 2019.
“When you go to an event like this, it opens you up to other points of view that you don’t necessarily find at home,” Brito said. “The artists in the pavilions accomplish something that moves me and intrigues me and is able to hold my attention for a certain period of time.”
Entitled “The Milk of Dreams,” the main exhibition has been curated by Italian-born, New York-based curator Cecilia Alemani, whose work, Brito said, “is both academic and full of heart.” She added, “There are lots of young female artists that are being represented, and I think that’s incredibly important. And a message that is about Surrealism and about thinking or dreaming a better world is, in my book, always welcome.”
Brito never misses the Pinault Collection’s 17th-century Punta della Dogana and 18th-century Palazzo Grassi, which regularly show contemporary art—currently, “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies” (until November 27, 2022) and a monographic Marlene Dumas exhibition (until January 8, 2023), respectively. “Everything has that tension between old and new that I find fascinating,” she said.
Brito feels similarly about the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia. “You can easily go from the permanent collection, which has incredible old Renaissance works in gigantic, gilded spaces with frescoes on the ceilings, and then to the exhibition of a contemporary artist”—for example, Anish Kapoor (until October 9, 2022). “It’s one of the very few places where you can see those things in such a stark contrast.”
Likewise, the very contemporary Fondazione Prada sits in a Venetian palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal. As for the programming, “I like that it moves between the highly conceptual and things that are a little bit more amenable,” Brito said. “They can introduce things that are complicated in a little bit of an easier way.” The current exhibition—“Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea,” a heady show fusing neuroscience, art, and philosophy (until November 27, 2022)—is a case in point.
Brito also appreciates the intimacy of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. “What I like about it is the presence of Peggy in the whole thing: It’s her collection; her living room; her dining area. You can really feel the history of an incredible art collector who was very important in the formation and the careers of artists like Jackson Pollock. Her life and art were kind of a performance that was one and the same.”
As for galleries in the floating city, Brito loves Victoria Miro. “Obviously, Victoria has an incredible program,” she said—but it’s the setting that she finds most memorable. “It’s tiny, and they have a window that goes floor to ceiling. So you are in the gallery and then you turn your head and it feels as if you are on the canal. The water seems like it’s been painted—the canals in Venice are so incredible because they are turquoise. It’s like a movie set. It’s like art within an art. It’s meta, you know?”
Eat and Drink: For modern Venetian seafood sourced straight from the sea and the lagoon (say, prawn tartare with verbena on cherry gazpacho), Brito likes Ristorante Lineadombra. “Not only is the food amazing, but also, you can sit outdoors, overlooking the Grand Canal. The majority of the restaurants in Venice are in the little streets, on the ground [level]. So that [setting] alone is worth going for.”
On the other hand, Chat Qui Rit has “no view of anything, because it’s really inside the streets”—but it’s still worth a visit. “It’s my husband’s favorite restaurant in Venice,” Brito said, serving “a little French and a little Italian” with elements of Japanese cuisine, too.
The Michelin-starred Ai Gondolieri is another favorite. “It looks like a boat, almost. It’s all dark wood inside and outside,” she said. The menu includes everything from gratinated snails to house-made pappardelle with hare ragout. Brito loves its tiramisu, and the fact that the space “is never really full.”
Stay: Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, “is the most luxurious hotel in Venice,” Brito said. “It’s the kind of place where details matter: The rooms are beautifully appointed; they iron your sheets; and they have super-attentive staff, which is at the end of the day, what you want in a hotel.” You also can’t beat the location, a five-minute walk from Piazza San Marco and right on the Grand Canal—which is perhaps best appreciated from Bar Terrazza Danieli, on the third level. “It is one of those rare places in Venice where you can see the whole canal in front of you, and have a drink at sunset. It’s really beautiful.”
Fly from Venice to Málaga
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MÁLAGA: Days 4–7
See and Do: For Brito, the Museo Picasso Málaga is a must. “It’s not as fabulous as the one in Paris or the one in Barcelona, but it’s the city where he was born,” she said. “Everybody in Málaga has incredible pride in this, even though he was only there until he was 14. But Picasso was very much from there.” Bullfighting, a pursuit the artist was captivated by, “is very, very present in Andalusia,” Brito noted.
The museum’s rotating shows are also worth a look. “When I go, it’ll be the Paula Rego show [until August 21, 2022] that was at Tate Britain in London,” Brito said. “I think she was an incredible artist.” The Portuguese-British painter, sculptor, and feminist recently passed away at age 87.
She’ll also head to CAC Málaga, a contemporary-art center, for a show of paintings by her friend Erik Parker (June 24–August 28, 2022). “The museum is not big, but it puts together surveys that are high-quality and very beautiful,” she said.
The historic city is filled with contemporary art. As Brito noted, “Bilbao has a Guggenheim and Málaga has a Pompidou. It has its own shows and exhibitions, but it also has this incredible collection of the Pompidou in Paris at its disposal.”
For a crash course in Spanish art history, Brito suggested Museo de Málaga. “It’s in an old customs house, so it’s enormous,” she said. In fact, it was initially two museums: one devoted to archaeology from the region, and another to historic works of art, from Velázquez to Picasso. “One side of the museum is all the archaeological collection, and the other side is all the art collection. And because it’s enormous, it’s really quiet. You can roam without having a million people on top of you.”
Eat and Drink: “What the Spanish do really well is innovative cuisine—you know, molecular food was also invented in Spain by El Bulli,” Brito noted. In Málaga, the Michelin-starred Restaurante José Carlos García is not to be missed. Brito also recommended Restaurante Kaleja, where chef Dani Carnero offers a tasting menu that changes weekly.
Anyway Wine Bar is among Brito’s favorite spots to wind down. “It is tiny, but it has more than 150 types of wine by the glass. You don’t have to buy the bottle. Obviously, the point is that you try Spanish wines, but they have French, they have Lebanese, they have Italian; you can find everything from everywhere.”
Stay: “Gran Hotel Miramar is like the flagship of Málaga luxury,” Brito said. “It’s a huge white palace that faces the sea, and everything is very grand. It has lush gardens, this very stately pool, and balconies that face the water. And it has great service.”
More intimate is Palacio Solecio, housed in an 18th-century Andalusian palace. “What I find fascinating about it is the combination of Arab and Spanish,” she said. These influences extend from the architecture to the Mediterranean restaurant, Balausta, which is overseen by chef José Carlos García. “Whatever is in season, they work with,” Brito noted (think red-tuna tartare with local gazpachuelo soup, sun-dried tomatoes, and pickled vegetables). “And the location is stunning. It’s like the Alhambra, but in a hotel in Málaga.”
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