Carsten Höller’s Doubt Staircase: A Marvel at Palazzo Diedo

Carsten Höller, born in 1961 in Brussels, recently created a permanent and functional artwork at Palazzo Diedo, known as the Doubt Staircase.

This masterpiece was unveiled on 22nd June 2024, transforming an originally unfinished staircase in the 18th-century palace.

The spiral staircase, featuring metal balustrades, Vicenza stone, and marmorino marble, joined by metal frames, is now accessible to visitors and serves as a practical link between the main floors of Palazzo Diedo.

The Architectural Transformation

The structure of the staircase is inclined at a 5° angle—a subtle tilt that is noticeable yet not immediately apparent, creating a sense of doubt when stepped upon. This characteristic is a recurring theme in Höller’s work.

Carsten Höller's Doubt Staircase: A Marvel at Palazzo Diedo

The original project for Palazzo Diedo, designed by Andrea Tirali around 1660–1737, remained incomplete due to the deaths of both the architect and the original owner.

When Fassi architects—Silvio Fassi, Maddalena Gallamini, and Sebastiano Roveroni—approached the restoration and design of Palazzo Diedo, no stairs connected the first and second piano nobile. They utilised the volume added in the 19th-century redesign, above the existing 18th-century staircase, to connect the two main levels.

Inspiration and Design

Carsten Höller’s project to create a spiral staircase was inspired by the Venetian staircases of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo and Palladio, fitting perfectly into the space. The artist, renowned for his slides, ventured into building an oval staircase with this project.

According to Baldo Hauser (2024), “Carsten Höller is famous for the slides he has built, but now he ventures into building an oval staircase. He must have had the Venetian staircases of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo and Palladio in mind, but this one is inclined, like the city as a whole perhaps, or the human mind: how do we deal with verticality, and order in general, when the world we live in is everything but straight?”

German artist Carsten Höller, who lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden, and Biriwa, Ghana, holds a doctorate in Agricultural Sciences. His scientific background influences his artistic activity, as he adopts a scientific working method while subverting its basic rules.

Höller conceives art as a cognitive tool, using his works to transform the sensory and emotional experience of individuals. He aims to disorient and provoke viewers, altering traditional perceptive mechanisms by creating situations and experiences that instil doubt and make people lose their bearings.

Berggruen Arts & Culture Foundation

Established by Berggruen Arts & Culture, a charitable foundation set up by collector and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, Palazzo Diedo is Venice’s first major new space dedicated to contemporary art in over a decade.

The inaugural exhibition, Janus, curated by Mario Codognato, Director of Berggruen Arts & Culture, and Adriana Rispoli, Curator of Berggruen Arts & Culture, features site-specific commissions by 11 internationally acclaimed artists.

These artists include Urs Fischer, Piero Golia, Carsten Höller, Ibrahim Mahama, Mariko Mori, Sterling Ruby, Jim Shaw, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Aya Takano, Lee Ufan, and Liu Wei.

Janus aims to deepen the connection between contemporary art and the past, as well as between East and West. The exhibition will host artist residencies, exhibitions, events, film, and performance across five levels and a total area of 4,000 square metres.

Carsten Höller's Doubt Staircase: A Marvel at Palazzo Diedo

This initiative marks a significant milestone in Venice’s contemporary art scene, fostering a dynamic environment for artistic expression and cultural exchange.

Höller’s Influence and Legacy

Carsten Höller’s work at Palazzo Diedo is a testament to his innovative approach to art and architecture. His ability to blend scientific principles with artistic creativity challenges traditional perceptions and encourages viewers to question their understanding of reality.

The Doubt Staircase, with its subtle tilt and intricate design, exemplifies Höller’s unique vision and contributes to the ongoing dialogue between historical and contemporary art forms.

The Doubt Staircase not only serves a practical purpose but also enhances the architectural significance of Palazzo Diedo. The integration of modern elements with historical architecture creates a harmonious balance, showcasing the adaptability and timelessness of the palace. This project underscores the importance of preserving historical structures while incorporating contemporary innovations.

The Role of Contemporary Art in Historical Spaces

Visitors to Palazzo Diedo can experience the Doubt Staircase firsthand, allowing them to engage with Höller’s work on a sensory and emotional level. The subtle tilt of the staircase creates a sense of uncertainty, encouraging visitors to question their perceptions and explore the boundaries of reality. This interactive experience aligns with Höller’s artistic philosophy of provoking thought and instilling doubt.

The integration of contemporary art in historical spaces, such as Palazzo Diedo, highlights the dynamic relationship between the past and present. Projects like the Doubt Staircase demonstrate how contemporary art can revitalise historical sites, making them relevant to modern audiences. This fusion of old and new fosters a deeper appreciation for both historical and contemporary art forms.

Carsten Höller's Doubt Staircase: A Marvel at Palazzo Diedo

With the establishment of Palazzo Diedo as a major contemporary art space, the future of the palace looks promising. The ongoing exhibitions, artist residencies, and cultural events will continue to attract visitors and artists from around the world. This vibrant artistic hub will play a crucial role in shaping Venice’s cultural landscape for years to come.

Conclusion

Carsten Höller’s Doubt Staircase at Palazzo Diedo is a remarkable example of how contemporary art can transform historical spaces. The subtle tilt and intricate design of the staircase challenge traditional perceptions and encourage viewers to explore the boundaries of reality.

As Venice’s first major new space dedicated to contemporary art in over a decade, Palazzo Diedo stands as a testament to the enduring power of artistic innovation and cultural exchange.

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