It’s not a stretch to say that Peggy Guggenheim was an integral part of the modern art movement. From championing abstract artists like Brancusi, Calder, Kandinsky, Pollock, etc., to smuggling artists’ work out of Paris when Germany stormed the streets in WWII. Guggenheim was a woman well ahead of her time in terms of personal self-invention and her professional collection. In Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s new, extensively researched documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” we find Guggenheim’s passion for art shaped her life, and consequently ours.
Vreeland frames her documentary with Guggenheim’s 1978-79 interview audiotapes, once believed to be lost (Guggenheim died in 1979). These tapes were recorded interviews between Guggenheim and her authorized biographer, Jacqueline Bograd Weld (who wrote the book, “Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim”). Guggenheim honestly answers questions about her life as she reflects on her family, artists, multiple lovers and husbands.
Guggenheim remarks about her early life, including her father dying on the Titanic, her mother and aunt’s eccentricities, the death of a beloved sister, Benita, and the strained relationship with her other sister Hazel (who would later be involved in her own children’s deaths). Guggenheim was definitely an outsider within her family. But when she moved to Paris, she found a new family, as she became fast friends with the Dadaists and Surrealists.
She was photographed by Man Ray. She played tennis with poet Ezra Pound. She had an intense affair with Samuel Beckett. And she was passionate about art. Paris felt like home.
Filmmaker Vreeland does excellent work in marrying a wealth of images and documentary footage with Guggenheim’s remembrances. There’s the Guggenheim Jeune Gallery opening in London in 1938 in which she hired Marcel Duchamp to help advise. There is also a rich assortment of photos, home movies, and images of the artists and artwork.
The documentary astutely depicts observations from Guggenheim and some 30 others, including art critic John Richardson, LACMA’s head Michael Govan and curator Stephanie Barron, Larry Gagosian, Mercedes Ruehl, biographer Bograd Weld. They all speak bluntly about her passion for art, her sexual desires, her troubled marriages, and the constant search to be her own woman.
Curating success would be achieved when Guggenheim returns to New York with her collection. During her last days in Paris, pre-WWII, Guggenheim remarks she bought “a picture a day,” buying as much as possible to take with her. Along with new husband artist Max Ernst and her remarkable early collection, Guggenheim creates her “The Art of This Century Gallery” in 1941. This gallery presented Cubist, Abstract, Surrealist and Kinetic Art. But in 1946 Guggenheim divorced the unfaithful Ernst and the following year she closed her gallery and returned to Europe.
Again Guggenheim reinvents herself, this time in Venice, Italy. She decides to permanently exhibit her incredible collection of art and buys an 18th century palace, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, to house the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This Collection of 326 works by over 100 artists is one of the more prominent collections in the world (and also one of the most visited).
It’s no surprise then that Vreeland’s documentary examining such a colorful subject during such an important period in the art world would be an art lover’s delight. With the late Peggy Guggenheim’s narration and the interviews of dozens of others, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” is perhaps the definitive Guggenheim documentary.
Filmmaker Event: Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland, producers Dan Braun and David Koh, and LACMA curator Stephanie Barron will appear for a Q&A Friday, November 13 after the 7:30 p.m. show and to introduce the 9:55 p.m. show at the Nuart Theatre. On Saturday, November 14, producers Braun and Koh return for Q&A’s for the 5:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:55 p.m. screenings.
“Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” is 97 minutes, Not Rated and opens November 13 in Los Angeles for an exclusive one-week run at the Nuart Theatre.