Francesca von Habsburg restores a church in Venice.

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The private Foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, founded by Francesca von Habsburg, has been elected as the most suitable applicant for their offering of a combination of restoration and activation of the church of San Lorenzo. The city of Venice and TBA21 are now entering negotiations detailing the circumstances of usage, which should lead to a final contract.

Located in the center of Venice, between the Piazza San Marco and the Arsenale, the former church of San Lorenzo – with an archeological subterranean find dating back to the 800s – will go through a long-term process of renovation. The TBA21 proposal, presented by the Venetian Heritage Foundation, was selected because of their allowing of the coexistence of the slow and meticulous process of renovating such a valuable historical building with a dynamic, interdisciplinary contemporary public program of international outreach. A first phase of this restoration is being elaborated that will enable the space to reopen to the public after decades of closure, with the exception of a few rare cultural projects.

Vienna based TBA21 was founded in 2002 by Francesca von Habsburg, one of the most innovative philanthropists of today. Daughter of the Baron Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza – who established one of the greatest art collections ever in the Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland – Francesca von Habsburg studied art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and history of modern and contemporary art at the ICA in the early 80s. In 1989, she became chief curator of special exhibitions of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection at the Villa Favorita and in 1991 she founded the ARCH Foundation dedicated to the preservation and restoration of cultural heritage.

“We are very grateful to the city of Venice with its Mayor Dr. Luigi Brugnaro to have positively considered our application for the simultaneous restoration of the Church of San Lorenzo and the creation of a new contemporary art program. We are looking into the possibility to restore and work in the church, though prior to undertaking this challenge we have to go through historical, seismic and structural surveys in order to consolidate the structure of the building and before any conservation or programming can take place. Based on the results, our proposal to create a ‘space within a space’ will act as a conservation platform, allowing restoration to take place alongside the building’s function as a contemporary exhibition venue, allowing the worlds of past, present and future to collide. This proposal will activate one of the most fascinating places remaining in Venice during its painstaking restoration, and make it accessible to the public after decades of closure.”


Over the last ten years Venetian Heritage and Francesca von Habsburg have previously collaborated on a number of successful restoration projects in lands that were once part of the Venetian domain, notably Trogir, Dubrovnik and Lopud in Croatia. Her sensitivity to both the historical importance of cultural heritage and her visionary outlook towards cutting edge contemporary art and its importance in the field of transfering knowledge won her the favour of Dr. Luigi Brugnaro the mayor of Venice during his evaluation of the proposal.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) is dedicated primarily to the commissioning and dissemination of ambitious, experimental and unconventional projects that defy traditional categorizations, giving the foundation a pioneering reputation throughout the world. TBA21 is known for its focus on the urgent need to protect our natural resources and environment, particularly the oceans. Through a new exploratory fellowship program in the Pacific called Triennium, TBA21 takes artistic practice out of the studio and science out of the lab to invent new forms of knowledge production on both land and sea.

Venetian Heritage is an international non-profit organization with offices in Venice and New York and operates under the joint UNESCO – International Private Committees for the Safeguarding of Venice.

Venetian Heritage support cultural initiatives through restoration, exhibitions, publications, conferences, studies and research, with the aim to highlight the immense cultural wealth of Venetian art in Italy and in the territories formerly part of the Republic of Venice.


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