J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Tribeca ’15: Peggy Guggenheim—Art Addict

Without Peggy Guggenheim, there would be no Jackson Pollock, at least not as the modernist icon as we have come to know him. Dozens of important Twentieth Century artists were supported and nurtured by Guggenheim. She was the preeminent American gallerist before the term came into vogue and amassed a personal collection that would rival the Barnes. Her passionate career is chronicled in Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s Peggy Guggenheim—Art Addict (clip here), which had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Amy Madigan played Guggenheim in Ed Harris’s Pollock bio-picture, so you know it had to be an important role. By Gilded Age standards, her branch of the Guggenheims was not so fabulously wealthy, but it would be a gross understatement to call them “comfortable.” Her family life was somewhat problematic, considering her father perished on the Titanic, but his mistress survived. Awkward, right? Supposedly not exactly a great beauty, Guggenheim never looked for high society validation, but she had a keen interest in grubby intellectuals and a true eye for beautiful and/or provocative art.

In addition to Pollock, Guggenheim was an important early collector and exhibitor of artists like Clyfford Still and Robert De Niro, Sr. (and ever so coincidentally, her documentary screened at Tribeca). At one point, she was married to Max Ernst, but their union sounds like a bit of a train wreck. Regardless, she fortuitously collected early works from towering figures of modern art, much like Albert Barnes. Frankly, it would be prohibitively expensive to amass equivalent collections in today’s market.

It is just jaw-dropping to see the collected pieces now ensconced in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, idyllically located in Venice. Originally, it was not affiliated with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on 89th Street, but a joining of forces would launch the Guggenheim as perhaps the first truly multinational museum. Plus, she reportedly took scores of lovers, which Vreeland’s experts allude to, without getting excessively gossipy.

Art Addict is an appropriately classy package that moves along at a brisk pace. J. Ralph’s upbeat soundtrack also keeps the energy up, sometimes evoking the spirit of the Hot Club era. After watching the film, audiences just have to give Guggenheim credit for doing it her way and snagging the best pieces. Not to belabor the point, but Vreeland (granddaughter-in-law and documentarian of Diana Vreeland) clearly understands the social eco-system in which Guggenheim rebelled and thrived. The result is a well-balanced, nicely contextualized portrait. Highly recommended for art lovers, Peggy Guggenheim—Art Addict screens next month at the Nantucket Film Festival (exact dates tk), after premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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