The story of a very clever woman and society rebel, tonight’s PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT is a devilishly good feature documentary about the life of art icon Peggy Guggenheim, based on her only authorised biography. A woman of extraordinary tastes and appetites, she was ahead of her time in more ways than one, and filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland has left no stone unturned when telling her fascinating tale.
The much loved, wealthy daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim (who actually went down with the Titanic) and niece of Solomon Guggenheim (founder of the famous New York museum of the same name), Peggy used her inheritance to become one of the world’s most passionate collectors of art and artists ever known. She founded galleries in London, New York and finally Venice, where her museum still stands.
As a young, rebellious woman in Paris she began to buy art, her passion funded by money she was left by her beloved dad. She was prompted initially by a taste for the outrageous, and her early purchases can be called eclectic and bold, if nothing else. Thankfully, she gradually developed an impeccable eye thanks to the influence of other early connoisseurs of modernism, and the quality of her collection grew. It was 1921, the Dadaists and the Surrealists were in full flight and she gleefully bought them all. And she kept buying. By the time she died in 1979, she had one of the world's most comprehensive modernist collections, ranging from Braque and Picasso to Pollock and de Kooning . She bought up dozens of great works by Picasso and others in Paris at the outbreak of war, when prices were at their lowest. She bought 10 Picassos all up, but the artist reportedly disliked her immensely, considering her a dilettante.
As she moved through the cultural madness of the 20th century, she collected not only art, but it has been said, also artists. Guggenheim became an art addict but she was also a bit of a sex addict, according to those who knew her best. Art was the heiress’ joy as well as her refuge from a personal life that was often marred by tragedy. The only man she claimed to have truly loved died young, and her two husbands were – according to Guggenheim - nothing but trouble. She too was no walk in the park, and frequently despaired about her own inadequacies. Not a conventionally attractive woman, she hated her nose and was actually one of the first people to have plastic surgery. She visited a surgeon in 1920 and requested a nose like the one she had read about in Tennyson's Idylls of the King, "tip-tilted like the petal of a flower". It has been reported that she had the doctor stop in the middle of the procedure because it was so bloody painful, and he apparently didn’t succeed in getting her the nose she wanted. She decided to never have the badly botched nose job fixed and was widely mocked for it. Artist – and clearly, complete douchebag - Jackson Pollock reportedly said that you would have to put a towel over Guggenheim's head to have sex with her, which is a particularly horrendous given that she was his most ardent and committed patron! It comes as no surprise then when you hear that he was one of the few artists whose lives she helped prop up that she didn’t sleep with.
Guggenheim also struggled with motherhood - her daughter died of an overdose of barbiturates after a series of suicide attempts – and once again, art was her saviour. While fighting personal tragedy and loss of self-esteem on a regular basis, she maintained her vision to build one of the most important collections of modern art. This film is a testament to her achievements, and a startlingly good portrait of a patron of the arts extraordinaire who transformed a family fortune and great eye into one of the world’s most precious collections of twentieth-century art.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT premieres Thursday 27 October at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 39