Venice’s Cultural Institutions Shutter En Masse as Historic Floods Send the Floating City Into a ‘State of Calamity’

Water and fire damage have shuttered many of the city's historic museums.

A view inside the flooded St. Mark's Basilica during the floods on November 13 in Venice. Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images.
A view inside the flooded St. Mark's Basilica during the floods on November 13 in Venice. Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images.

As the worst floods in half a century deluge the city of Venice, the city’s cultural institutions are battening down the hatches and bracing for another day of high waters.

Flood levels peaked at 74 inches today, the second-highest level ever recorded, and forecasts suggest those numbers will remain unusually high over the coming days. The city’s historic Saint Mark’s basilica has suffered serious damage, as have many of its cultural institutions. Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, has declared a state of emergency and, in a tweet, publicly asked the government to bail out the city, emphasizing that the millions of dollars of flood damage are part of “the effects of climate change.” 

“Venice finds itself now in a state of calamity and alert,” the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Karole PB Vail, tells Artnet News. The modern art museum is located right on the Grand Canal in the city’s Dorsoduro district. “Fortunately, the museum staff is well and safe, the museum and collections are safe and have not been damaged. But for security reasons, and in order to deal with this emergency situation including some damages in the ticket office and shop, the museum is closed to the public today and tomorrow.”

Venice’s 11 city-run institutions also shuttered today. The Fondazione Musei Civici, which manages and develops the cultural and artistic heritage of Venice and the surrounding islands, explains in a statement that it ordered the temporary closure of its venues for cleaning and restoration work, as well as to undertake necessary security measures. “Venice is experiencing an emergency that has not yet ended,” the statement reads.

The worst affected museum is the Ca’Pesaro, which hosts the International Gallery of Modern Art. A short circuit caused a fire that was quickly extinguished by firefighters. But a landing connecting the ground floor to the first floor has been damaged and, while it has not yet collapsed, it requires immediate shoring up. 

Along with the Ca’ Pesaro, the baroque palazzo of the Ca’ Rezzonico, a museum dedicated to 18th-century Venice; the Palazzo Mocenigo; the Casa di Carlo Goldoni; Palazzo Fortuny; and the Museum of Natural History, will all be closed through November 16. 

Ca' Pesaro on the Canal Grande. Venice. Photo by Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Ca’ Pesaro on the Canal Grande, Venice. Photo by Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Fortunately, however, the Museo Correr, Saint Mark’s Clock Tower, the Murano Glass Museum, and the Lace Museum in Burano will reopen tomorrow, although museum cafés and gift shops located on the ground floor will not be accessible for a few days, and the use of the elevators will be temporarily limited, thereby preventing access to wheelchair users. The Palazzo Ducale is slated to reopen on Friday, November 15.

As for some of the city’s other private institutions, the Pinault Collection’s two venues, the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, are also staying on the safe side. A spokesman for the exhibition venues tells Artnet News that both will remain closed tomorrow “as a precautionary measure.”

“No damage has been caused to the exhibited artworks, although some necessary steps are required to verify the proper functioning of the systems and services of both venues,” the spokesman says.

The Venice Biennale, which is due to close in just nine days, was forced to shutter its two main exhibitions in the Giardini and the Arsenale, as well as the national pavilions in both venues. A spokeswoman tells Artnet News that they hope they can resume activities tomorrow, but did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether they plan to extend the exhibition’s run.

Meanwhile, the Galleria dell’Accademia, which usually hosts a prized masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci—the world-famous Vitruvian Man—remained open on November 13. The gallery might be counting its stars that it agreed to loan the gem to the Louvre’s Leonardo blockbuster after all. The gallery could not be reached for comment.


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