Venice just got a brand-new photography museum on a historic island

Venice’s new temple to photography is just a hop, skip and a vaporetto ride from St Mark’s Square

Catherine Bennett
Contributor, travel
San Giorgio island, Venice
Photograph: Shutterstock

Venice is already bursting at the seams with museums and cultural events, and now Italy’s city on the water has a brand new addition to its art scene. It’s called Le Stanze della Fotografia, and you’ll need to take a ride on the vaporetto, Venice’s public waterbus, to see it.

The new temple to photography opened on March 29 in a historical building on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, just opposite St Mark’s Square. To get to Le Stanze, you’ll need to head to the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop B, where boats leave regularly for Giudecca island, and take the red line 2 across the water.

The museum is built across two floors in a former customs warehouse that was turned into a boarding school in the ’50s. Since then, major restoration work has opened up the space, uncovering its high vaulted ceilings and exposing two large windows, giving visitors a breathtaking view of the lagoon. Thanks to architects and set designers from Venice’s famous theatre Teatro Fenice, the gallery uses moving set pieces to adapt the space to different exhibition layouts.

Le Stanze della Fotografia is a joint project by the island’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini (which has one of Europe’s most extensive photography collections) and Marsilio Arte, which formerly showcased photographers like Sebastião Salgado and David La Chapelle at La Casa dei Tre Oci on Venice’s southern island of Giudecca.

The inaugural exhibition at the new space is a retrospective of the Italian photographer Ugo Mulas, starting with his end-of-career experimental work then taking visitors through his extensive catalogue, from his portraits of major artists of the twentieth century and journalistic work covering the Venice Biennale to fashion shots for publications like Vogue

A large exhibition showcasing the work of photographer Paolo Pellegrin will follow in the autumn, displaying his photojournalism covering conflicts and the ravages of climate change. And spring 2024 will bring a blockbuster retrospective of Helmut Newton to the island, to mark a hundred years since the risqué German fashion photographer was born.

When you’re done at the photography museum, San Giorgio island has plenty more for visitors to do and see. Look around the impressive Giorgio Cini Foundation complex with its magnificent frescos and ancient cloisters; lose yourself in the Borges labyrinth (named after the Argentinian writer); or wander through the island’s vast woodland, where ten Vatican Chapels built by renowned architects from around the world respond to the Venetian landscape. Don’t forget to peek inside the San Giorgio Basilica, which dates from the sixteenth century. And a final tip: instead of queueing up for the bell tower at St Mark’s, take in the views from the tower at San Giorgio Basilica instead. You’ll be rewarded with dazzling views over St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace – and it’s particularly spectacular at sunset.

‘Ugo Mulas: The Photographic Operation’ opened at Le Stanze della Fotografia on March 29 and runs until August 6. The museum is open every day apart from Wednesdays. General entry tickets cost €14 – find out more and buy tickets here.

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