French tycoon wins battle over U.S. to fill 17th-century Venice building with modern art

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PARIS -- It is a battle of superlatives. A battle of art and politics, pitting one of Europe's richest families against one of America's wealthiest dynasties. A battle for the chance to use the world's most famous architects to turn the most prestigious site in the most beautiful city of Europe into one of the continent's most high-profile museums of contemporary art.

And it is a battle that, unless there is a late last-minute hitch, the French luxury goods magnate Francois Pinault, whose business empire includes Christie's, Gucci and Yves St Laurent, will win. Venice's heritage committee last week announced that the bid by the Guggenheim Foundation has been sidelined and Pinault's £18m plan to restore the 17th-century Customs House at the mouth of Venice's Grand Canal and hang hundreds of modern masterpieces on its walls is now the only contender. The final terms of the agreement are being negotiated.

"The French have seen off the Americans," said one commentator close to the heritage committee. "The classic has triumphed over the modern, the Old Continent over the New World."

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