French luxury billionaire Francois Pinault Friday expressed his passion for art at the inauguration of a new exhibition by New York-based Swiss artist Urs Fischer at his Venice palace.
"It's an important part of my activities," Pinault told Agence France Presse on the sidelines of the exhibition in Palazzo Grassi on the picturesque banks of the Grand Canal.
"This is my passion, it's not work as you know. It's something else. It goes well beyond," said the 75-year-old founder of fashion and luxury group PPR, home of such labels as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen.
Pinault snapped up the 18th-century palazzo in 2006 and has turned it into an exhibition space for works from his extensive collection of modern art.
His foundation also bought a spectacular former customs building in Venice and opened it three years ago as a museum called "Punta della Dogana."
Pinault, who turned his father's timber merchant business into a global business empire, also spoke of his Breton roots when talking about Venice.
"Bretons and Venetians are seagoing people. Venetians were maybe more successful than Bretons in that regard but it's something in common," he said.
Pinault has handed over the reins of management of the company to his son, Francois-Henri, who held a star-studded wedding celebration in Venice in 2009 for his nuptials with Mexican-born Hollywood actress Salma Hayek.
Speaking about the new Fischer exhibition, which opens on Sunday and runs until July 15, Pinault said he particularly liked the sculpture of a bird hanging on a chain and another of nails with long shadows.
The show includes melting wax sculptures, Pop Art and live models.
At the entrance is an exact re-creation of Fischer's former London studio intended to allow visitors "to have a physical experience of creation."
Caroline Bourgeois, chief curator of the exhibition, said: "Urs Fischer's universe is made up of logic and absurdity, of illusion and real life, of violence and humor, of eternity and the ephemeral."
Several of the sculptures make use of mechanics like that of a phial balancing on a string, or a packet of cigarettes going round and round.
Fischer "is undeniably a great sculpture of suspended time," said Bourgeois.
The artist, who was born in 1973, said that working for him was "a joy" and that the important thing for him was not "to function like a machine."
Asked whether a giant penis sculpture might shock some visitors, Fischer said: "It's for everybody; I did not ask myself the question."
Another possible eyebrow-raiser at the show is a naked woman striking bronze statue poses, kneeling on a white table or spread out on a couch.
Lovers of Pop Art will like Fischer's giant Tic-Tac box and a giant 20-dollar bill the size of a washing powder box.
Of more classical inspiration is a giant portrait of a woman in black tie.
The exhibition is entitled "Madame Fisscher" -- perhaps an ironic reference to Madame Tussauds in London -- and is the first of a series of single-artist and thematic exhibitions at the Palazzo Grassi (www.palazzograssi.it).
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