Peggy Guggenheim - the Art Addict

REVIEW • A QUIRK IDENTITY


The owner of the world’s biggest modern art collections and a pioneering spirit of the modern arts, Peggy Guggenheim was a central figure in the modern art movement. Despite her efforts and accomplishments, her importance in the field was overshadowed by her extraordinary personality and lifestyle.

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Peggy Guggenheim’s story consists of a mix of tragedies and blessings. The colourful side of her story includes what Woody Allen might have dreamt of: being surrounded by artists like Picasso, Dali and Marcel Duchamp. On the other side stands the tragedy of losing her father on the Titanic, followed by several divorced husbands, seven abortions, very poor relations with her own children and a botched nose job.

“I have had a very sad life,” says one of the world’s biggest modern art collectors, Peggy Guggenheim, who is best known for her renowned collection.

Her accomplishments and role in modern art remain controversial, but there is something certain about her: Peggy was definitely a character.

Once called the “black sheep” among her family, she was the kind of girl who would shave her eyebrows before going to school in order to scare off her schoolmates. The words nymphomaniac, distorted, amateur, intellectually light weighted and unattractive with a highly sexual aura could be used to describe her reputation; she was definitely not an exemplary 20th Century female figure. She was a very courageous woman of her time, who wasn’t afraid to show who she really was, yet her sexual escapades, of which she spoke freely, often overwhelmed her legacy.   

Having artists like Max Ernst and Duchamp on her side, as her husband for two years and her art advisor respectively, Peggy’s accomplishments were always credited to the great artists around her. It is certain that her close relationships with such artists did influence Peggy’s status, but if we look at her story with fresh eyes today, we see a success story about a dilettante socialite who actually turned herself into one of the modern art catalysts of the high-rolling 20th Century art patronage.

A self-taught modern art lover became a modern art mentor and gallerist, recognising modern art’s greatest talents. She managed three pioneering modern art galleries in three different countries during the Second World War. She discovered artists such as Jackson Pollock and Rothko when modern art was just beginning. Then, holding one of the most important modern art collections in the world, she made her dream come true and opened a museum under her name to exhibit her collection, which is still one of the most visited attractions in Venice.

Thinking about Peggy’s relation to modern art raises the question of whether her success and accomplishments could be achieved only through the guidance of her artist acquaintances, as many supposed at the time.

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Following her successful debut, “The Eye has to Travel”, Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s second documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: The Art Addict”, answers this question.

In fact, the documentary’s main purpose is to illustrate Peggy’s role and artistry in Modern Art, and how she had a bigger impact than many have ever imagined.

The documentary starts with descriptions of Peggy from different perspectives, all of which agree that she was a person who formed her personality through art. Art was the only area in which she felt comfortable, and she did her best only in art rather than in anything else.

Peggy is mainly known for her art collection. She collected modern art like no one else did in the times prior to and during Second World War, when people had absolutely no interest in modern art. In fact, there was no market for it. Despite her efforts in the modern arts, she was still considered an amateur collector and an intellectually light weighted socialite.  

The documentary portrays a story about a very courageous woman, fighting against several tragedies, who reinvented herself, becoming a “unique” someone. While watching the documentary we learn that, despite all the obstacles originating from the Second World War and her poor legacy, interestingly, Peggy always managed to carve herself a place in the world as she continued to pursue her vision of building one of the most important collections of modern art. She was a “self-made” person, the documentary states.

The director also places an importance on history, examining both Peggy’s personal development and her work life by cohering them into a list of eras with comments from art experts, collectors and, interestingly, Robert De Niro, as we realise Peggy exhibited his parents’ artworks. Peggy’s only authorised biographer, Jacqueline Bograd Weld, is also featured.

Overall, the approach to storytelling is very straightforward. The documentary’s biggest playing card is the use of recently discovered audiotapes of interviews between Peggy and her biographer, Jacqueline. The film earns points by showcasing Peggy’s own voice to the crowd, and we get a chance to see Peggy’s comments without any censorship for the very first time. Although the tapes do not reveal unknown details about Peggy’s life, they still demonstrate Peggy’s personality, vision and compassionate insight.

The biography consists of the director’s reworking of Peggy’s photographs, the artists’ artworks, Peggy’s art collection images, collages and voice records. Most of the artwork footage is displayed as a slideshow whilst viewers listen to an insider’s voice, or that of Peggy herself.

Although the graphics are not as interesting as they were in Vreeland’s first documentary and the film, “Peggy Guggenheim: The Art Addict” is worthy watching. Not only does it inform and educate viewers, it also plants the seed of Peggy’s role and legacy in modern art firmly in the ground.

Many art critics still don't acknowledge Peggy Guggenheim's efforts in modern art.


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