We take a look at this feature documentary about ‘one of the most vibrant figures in modern art’…
“In 1978-9, Peggy Guggenheim gave what was to become the last interview of her life for Jacqueline B. Weld’s biography, Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim. The tapes were long thought to be lost. I found them in Jacqueline’s basement while making this film. They have never been heard before.”
So begins Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, an account of the heiress, patron, and occasional hanger-on of modern art, neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim of New York gallery fame. Beginning in New York in the late-19th century, where Peggy feels like an outcast due to her measly fortune of half-a-million dollars, the film takes us chronologically through a globetrotting life, with significant periods of time spent in the creatively fertile Paris of the 1920s, prewar London, Jackson Pollock’s New York, and finally Peggy’s late years surrounded by dogs and admirers in Venice, where she opened a personal gallery in a mini palace. The film does a good, if slightly rushed, job of taking us through a life of constant excitement and innovation. While there are long-term and important relationships with certain figures – Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst – the film manages at least a brief walk-on for every single art icon of the first half of the 20th century. It’s exhausting, but it’s also rather exhilarating. Exhilarating, too, are many of the stories related all too briefly – smuggling degenerate art out of Paris on the eve of Nazi occupation, at great personal risk, merits about two minutes of screentime here.
It’s a short film at just over ninety minutes, and it’s one that’s friendly to general audiences, not only to art cognoscenti, so it’s a little forgivable that everything happens so quickly. What’s a tad more irksome is the prurient detail in which Peggy’s sex life is gone over. Admittedly, much of this is an unavoidable consequence of the film using Jacqueline Weld’s interview tapes as a basic structure, and her constant, grating “Did you sleep with him?” whenever a new male figure comes into the picture. For a book subtitled The Wayward Guggenheim that focus is unsurprising, but no-one forced director Lisa Immordino Vreeland to follow quite so slavishly in the footsteps of Weld, and one wonders how much interesting biographical material there wasn’t quite enough time for. What also might have been nice at some point, is some discussion of the artists Peggy discovered and championed: how did she go about selecting works? Why were her artists so important, revolutionary, visionary? What works, for that matter, did she even buy/display/collect? There’s so much gossip flying around that the film could just as well purport to deal with high society in general, rather than the art world specifically. Still, what comes through is a vulnerable, ambitious, lonely, intelligent, determined, clingy figure with impeccable taste in art, and that’s a good start.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict arrives on DVD and VOD today (22nd February) courtesy of Dogwoof, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!