Sunday, December 20, 2015

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

This recently-released film, directed by Lisa Vreeland, is a portrait of a truly remarkable woman.

Peggy Guggenheim was born into a well-to-do family whose members ranged from the eccentric to the criminally insane. In 1920, at the age of 22, she left her New York home for Paris where she immersed herself in the bohemian life. She opened her first gallery in London in early 1938, and found herself on a buying trip to France at the outbreak of World War II.

Using her contacts in Paris and a budget of $40,000, she snapped up many works of modern art, setting herself a goal of "one a day". Artists were desperate to sell their work at that point, with the closing of many French galleries and the campaign of the German occupiers to condemn progressive work as "degenerate". When finished, she had acquired ten Picassos, forty Ernsts, eight Mirós, four Magrittes, three Man Rays, three Dalís, one Klee, and one Chagall, among others. She opened her New York museum/gallery in 1942.

Ms. Guggenheim considered her "discovery" of Jackson Pollock to be one of her major achievements. Another was surely the establishment of her museum of modern art in Venice, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

The film itself is a standard documentary, nowhere near as colourful as the life of its subject. Some of those interviewed express opinions about Guggenheim's appearance and personal life which seem inappropriate to the modern viewer. At least one of the journalists who converse with Guggenheim is unskilled in the art of the interview. Despite these shortcomings, the movie paints a vivid picture of an extraordinary person, the fascinating people she drew into her circle, and the vibrant world of mid-century art, both American and European.

The film is playing at Montreal's Cinema du Parc until at least December 24, along with a Hitchcock retrospective. Bon cinema!

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