Lisa Vreeland’s documentary about art curator Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) not only presents her in (mostly) her own words, but shows that she was an incredibly prescient personality whose life mirrored the same untamable and tortured artists whose work she later fervently championed.
Fashioned from black and white photos and firsthand accounts of her life and work, the real impetus for Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is the ability to hear Peggy from a series of recordings — taken for a magazine interview conducted shortly before her death in 1979 and originally thought to be lost — in which she drolly muses about her sordid love affairs, personal sadness and love for the modern art she amassed. All of this is weaved together to create a documentary that informs and entertains.
Born into the wealthy Guggenheim family of New York, her opulent lifestyle (although, in her interviews, she routinely demurs her status and lifestyle) gave way to teenage resentment, transforming herself into the ultimate Roaring Twenties jazz bohemian, migrating to Europe and living in Paris where the entire creative world of the 20th century seemed to be melting together. Hemingway, Dali, Man Ray, Cocteau. They all rubbed shoulders with Peggy and opened her up to their emotive visions on art, cinema and sexuality.
It’s here Peggy developed her fascination with amassing modern art being ignored by a large swath of the collecting world. The circumstances of being in the right place at the right time and having the finances to indulge those interests led to her opening art galleries with varying degrees of success. First in Paris, later in New York after World War II and eventually settling in Venice, where her “Guggenheim Collection” home and museum is a national treasure, Peggy became set on a lifelong journey that still reverberates in the art world today.
Tracking all of this in linear form, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict does a terrific job of displaying Peggy as a three dimensional figure. Though her legacy is promoting and assisting artists such as Jackson Pollack break through the “outsider art” world and into the mainstream, the film also denotes the extreme sadness in her personal life. Loveless marriages, tragic deaths and her self-conscious beliefs about her ordinary looks punctuate the freewheeling aspects of her life.
Like so many of the artists she befriended, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict makes a strong case that what eventually drove Guggenheim and all the others was a strong desire to drive away the swirling, mundane fears and simply imprint themselves, somehow…. someway…. onto the world. I’d say they all did so with tremendous results.
The film opens Friday, December 18 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Check themodern.org/ for showtimes.