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The Greeks on display in Venice and hidden war booty at the Hermitage

Palazzo Grassi's “Greeks in the West” exhibition is pulling in the visitors

Despite obscure labelling, misconceived didactic over-kill on the walls and somewhat brutal display, the “Greeks in the West” exhibition at the Fiat-financed Palazzo Grassi (opened 24 March until 8 December) in Venice is pulling in the visitors. By the 24 May, 180,000 people had been around the show, an average of just under 3,000 per day, and they had bought 11,000 copies of the catalogue, a L60,000 door-stop that is no guide to the exhibition but a mass of learned articles addressed to professionals. This all goes to prove that first-rate marketing and a reputation for innovative presentation, helped by a universal theme, can draw the public to the grittiest shows.

Less surprising is the news that an average of 4,100 people a day - one and a half million in all, 300,000 of them foreigners - trooped round the “Hidden treasures revealed” at the Hermitage in the year-long exhibition (30 March 1995 - 31 March 1996). This show needed no marketing as the subject of war booty is well to the fore in the newspapers and these were seventy-four Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings taken after the war by the Soviets from German private collections and kept hidden until now. Combine this revelation with the apparently inexhaustible charm of Impressionism (for example, the 965,000 visitors in four months to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Monet show this year) and you could be certain of a winner.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The Greeks and hidden war booty'