From championing of a young artist named Jackson Pollack to the International galleries bearing her name, Peggy Guggenheim’s name is synonymous with art. Despite no formal training she possessed an artistic sixth sense when it came to greatness and an ability to seek out the marvellous. In Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, Lisa Immordino Vreeland weaves archive and audio recordings, film footage, and photographs with input from historians, curators and authors to produce an incredibly absorbing documentary on a remarkable woman.
Vreeland divides the film into chapters – decades and places that bookmarked a specific point in Guggenheims’s life. It’s quite a life. Born into a well-known, if rather eccentric New York family (her Uncle Solomon Guggenheim founded the New York Museum and her father Benjamin Guggenheim went down with the Titanic), she left her abusive marriage and job in New York bookstore for the Bohemian lights of Paris. She mixed with the great and good of the literary and art worlds – Dali, Ezra Pound, Picasso, Cocteau, Kandinsky – including Duchamp who she called her “great, great teacher”. Taking Duchamp’s advice to “go where the art was,” she travelled and opened numerous galleries across the world, including London’s Guggenheim Jeune Gallery, where the Surrealists held their infamous 1937 London exhibition and Dalí appeared in a deep sea diver’s suit.
Guggenheim’s life was filled with art, sex and adventure but was very low on personal satisfaction. Her marriage to Max Ernst ended when he had a affair with Leonora Carrington (he later married Dorothea Tanning), and she appears incredible lonely. This is why the film works so well: it is not a piece of hagiography but an intimate portrait of a woman whose life was less than perfect. She had a reputation for being ‘difficult’, she had affairs, she lacked confidence in her appearance – further elevated when she endured a botched nose job that was never corrected – and even developed a nervous ‘tick’.
Guggenheim once said, “it’s horrible to get old. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to you”. Maybe she thought her name would be forgotten? Some may say she was lucky – and, yes, in many ways art was her protective shield and emotional crutch – yet there is no denying that she was very astute woman with a canny business sensibility who brought avant-garde to the masses. Vreeland’s documentary is paramount to her legacy; a beautifully executed artwork of a woman who deserves to be noticed.
*Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is released on DVD and VOD 22 February 2016