By Claudia Dafrico
The name “Guggenheim” is synonymous with the art world. The ludicrously affluent Guggenheim family dominated the worlds of both industry and high society, and the influence they had on the early part of the 20th century will not likely be soon forgotten. They also had their fair share of family drama and quite a few “black sheep,” the most famous of whom is the subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s latest documentary, PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT. Vreeland maps Guggenheim’s colorful life from her beginnings as a flighty heiress embracing bohemia to her later years as a famed art collector desperate to relive her past. With insightful commentary from Guggenheim’s old friends and relatives, and even excerpts from the last interview featuring Guggenheim herself, this film is truly introspective and should not be missed.
Peggy was born in 1898 to Benjamin Guggenheim, the brother of American businessman/art collector/philanthropist Solomon Guggenheim, and Florette Seligman, the daughter of a lesser known high society family. She found herself surrounded by both oddity and tragedy at a young age. Many of her family members ranged from mildly eclectic to highly unstable, and Peggy absorbed it all. When her father died in the sinking of the Titanic, she felt isolated within her own family.
Peggy left for Paris in 1920 at the age of 22 and became enamored with the free-spirited nature of the bohemian community. She took many lovers, and became close with some of the most innovative artists of the time, including Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. She married her first husband and had two children in Paris, and quickly divorced once his infidelity came to light. Undeterred, Peggy had affairs with multiple married men and continued her avant-garde lifestyle. She moved to London and opened her first gallery, Guggenheim June, where she promoted the art of her colleagues, most of which were either Surrealist or abstract in nature. With Europe entering a time of unrest, Peggy packed up her collection and headed back to New York.
One of the most compelling portions of PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT is the narrative of her years in New York City. It became clear to Peggy that the artists she had come to love would be in imminent danger were they to stay in Europe. So she arranged to have both creator and creations moved to the states, and bought many of their works to feature in her new gallery. The museum, appropriately titled Art of This Century, was a haven for up-and-coming artistic movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, as well as one of the first well-known galleries to feature exhibits consisting solely of the works of female artists.
Peggy continued to discover new artists, including the then little-known Jackson Pollock, and promote them to mainstream success. She also continued her liberated lifestyle by sleeping with many of her peers, a habit she felt no shame over. She had wed one of the artists she had brought from Europe, the famed Max Ernst, but the marriage proved to be a failure and she divorced a second time. That separation proved to be a catalyst of change, and Guggenheim closed Art of This Century and headed back to Europe, this time making her place in a Venetian Palace.
This palace would soon become home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the most visited art museums in Europe. Peggy lived with her collection in Venice and entertained many guests, both artists and members of high society. Robert De Niro, being the son of artists Guggenheim had promoted, was one of Guggenheim’s many visitors. In the film, he recalls his time spent with the collector in her palace.
But while Peggy seemed to be socially thriving, her life was proving to be remarkably lonely. Her son, Sindbad Vail, who spent his childhood with her first husband, rejected the art world, and her daughter, Pegeen, was highly unstable. Pegeen lived with Peggy in Venice and was prone to “fits” that Peggy could not learn to control. She committed suicide in 1967, and Peggy was left alone in her massive palace with only her art and her dogs by her side.
The film does a wonderful job of illustrating Peggy’s desire to return to the past, with bits from her last interview expressing the despair she felt as she aged. After spending her life promoting others, it seemed as if no one was left to promote her well-being when she needed it the most.
Guggenheim passed in 1979, leaving behind both a legacy of sordid tales and a massive collection of art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection still attracts visitors from around the world and proves to be a testament of Peggy’s keen eye for art of the most fantastic and enduring nature. PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT proves to be a passionate ode to one of the most overlooked roles in the art world – that of the sponsor – and the vital role these individuals play in the beginning of a sensation. Peggy Guggenheim is the sponsor we should all look up to, and her legacy is lovingly brought to life in this fabulous documentary.
All images are for review purposes only and used with permission.