A woman wearing extravagant sunglasses. She sits on an intricately carved chair, or maybe a gondola in a Venetian canal. She's surrounded by dogs perhaps. She looks straight at the camera.
It's Peggy Guggenheim of course, immediately recognizable for those who have spent a lifetime reading fashion magazines where she's always celebrated for her "quirky" style. The signature sunglasses, which are for sale in the gift shop of her museum in Venice, the lavish furs, the perfectly groomed dogs. It's all there, compressed into little bits that can sell this season's must-have this or that.
Although it would be easy to sell Peggy Guggenheim as a dilettante, an heiress with a lot of money and not a lot to do with it, her story is much more interesting like that. Peggy lived an extraordinarily independent life, for the standards of her time–and ours, if we want to get real about it–and in the new documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, we get to know Peggy, the woman that lived behind all those iconic photographs we've seen, as told by those who knew her best, including Peggy herself, in tapes unearthed by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland in the basement of Peggy's biographer Jacqueline Bograd Weld.
The story of Peggy Guggenheim, the Art Addict, is a story about a woman who wholly lived for art. Growing up rich, without a father (he died in the Titanic!) and without a mother ("I don't think there are any good mothers in those days," Peggy says at one point), Peggy finds a sense of purpose and family in the art world. With Marcel Duchamp as her guide, she fully embraces modern art, the Surrealists, the Cubists, the Dadaists, they all found an ally and a champion in Peggy, long before the mainstream art world had begun embracing them. She was instrumental in the development of Jackson Pollock and Djuna Barnes' careers, helping them with money and living arrangements, so they could concentrate their energies on their art.
While amassing one of the most incredible collections of modern art, which now reside in her museum in Venice, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, she also had affairs with everyone she desired with, (and to further prove she was not ashamed of the lifestyle she led, she wrote all about them when she wrote her memoirs Out of this Century: Confessions of an Art Addict. The first edition had pseudonyms, but the second edition she edited to include everyone's real names). Peggy also rescued valuable art, and artists, during World War II and upon her move to New York during that time, bridged the gap between art in Europe and art in America.
It would be easy to discount Peggy Guggenheim as an art groupie with a checkbook, but for the artists that are now in the pantheon of the greats, who live in the collections of the most esteemed museums around the world, it's hard to say if so many of them would be there, whether because the would not have been recognized, or because they would have died in the war, without the aid of Peggy. A mother, a lover, of modern art.
See below for an exclusive clip from the documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.