Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

First rule of art collecting: buy art because you love it and not because you think it’s a good investment.

Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space, Polished Brass, 1931

Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space, Polished Brass, 1931

So, as I attempted to perform mathematical gymnastics, trying to figure out today’s market value of her collection, – yeah, don’t bother, even Arne Glimcher couldn’t do it, and he founded Pace Gallery – I couldn’t help but remind myself of the first rule of collecting. Buy only what you love, and not what you think will appreciate in price. Guggenheim bought each and every one of those paintings and sculptures not because of an investment strategy, but because she loved them.

And while we are on the subject of love… The sculpture in the photograph shown here is the super futuristic, and yes, very phallic, yet simply breathtaking Constantin Brancusi work titled Bird in Space, 1931. One of its castings is on the 5th floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and you MUST, absolutely must go see it on your next visit. Guggenheim singled out this work in a story that is sure to make you remember this particular sculpture for some time to come, and yes, feel free to quote it at your next cocktail party as long as you mention that you read it on galleryIntell. On the tapes Guggenheim recalls how she fell in love with the sculpture the moment she saw it (once you see it in person, you’ll understand why). She became so obsessed with the work that she embarked on an affair with the brooding sculptor, as she says, ‘to see if she could get a better price for it.’ Now that’s a real love of art, wouldn’t you say?

Art of This Century

Even though the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is her most enduring “collective” legacy, Art of This Century, the gallery she opened in NY in 1942, had the most profound impact on the history and direction of Post War and Contemporary Western art as we know it. It is because of this gallery that Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, David Hare, Lee Krasner, William Baziotes, Barnett Newmann, and Adolf Gottlieb, among others, became the mega stars of 20th century art we know today. The documentary skipped over the fact that the gallery, designed by the Romanian-Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler, actually consisted of 4 gallery spaces: the Abstract gallery, the Surrealist gallery, the Kinetic and the Daylight galleries. As you can see from the photograph below, this was not an austere “white cube” gallery we’re used to seeing today. If you want to read more about the gallery, check out this article.

Art of this Century Gallery, New York, Surrealist Gallery

Art of this Century Gallery, New York, Surrealist Gallery

The most famous of her protégés, Jackson Pollock, had his first solo show at the gallery in 1943. She speaks of Pollock with a mixture of admiration, regret, disappointment and pride only a mother could have for a child who showed huge promise but let her down. When asked about the value of those paintings in today’s market she grows irritated and almost impatient, saying that for her the value was always historical, aesthetic and could not be measured by money, and she can’t possibly imagine how these works got so expensive. ‘One of Jackson’s large paintings was $600 when I bought it. I can’t imagine where these absurd prices are coming from’- she says. Imagine what she’d say today if she found out that a Jackson Pollock painting was sold for almost $200 million…? Peggy happily donated many of her favorite works of art to museums not ever concerned about how much money she could make by selling them. She did it because she believed that these works are national treasures and ultimately belong to the public.

Jackson Pollock, Shewolf, Oil on canvas, 1943

Jackson Pollock, Shewolf, Oil on canvas, 1943

Art of This Century was also the first commercial art gallery to hold an exhibition dedicated to women artists. Exhibition by 31 Women included works by Djuna Barnes, Leonora Carrington, Buffie Johnson, Frida Kahlo, the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (a self-portrait), Louise Nevelson, Meret Oppenheim, Irene Rice Pereira, Kay Sage, Hedda Sterne, Dorothea Tanning, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Xenia Cage (then married to John Cage), Peggy Guggenheim’s sister Hazel, Guggenheim’s daughter Pegeen Vai and Barbara Reis.

I won’t go into her fabled love affairs, which featured many notable artists – these stories are always better heard first-hand. I’ll just say that her most famous involvement was with the Surrealist artist Max Ernst, a man she was clearly in love with and who, obviously, did not love her back. As the interviews were taped when Guggenheim was close to 80, you get an understanding from her tone and the way she talks about Ernst, that she probably knew that he was taking advantage of her. There are other stories, some tragic, some mysterious, some simply signs of her time; but all of them contributed to painting a more “filled-in” portrait of Peggy Guggenheim, the woman. It is because of these loves and losses that we get a notion of what passions ignited and drove her.

Beyond that all the promo spots for the film that focus on her being a “nymphomaniac” appear as nothing but a lowest common denominator spin, a crude tool aimed at bringing in the unsuspecting masses. And that’s a pity as there is no need to cheapen her story, the filmmakers efforts, and this extraordinary woman’s legacy by reducing her to a sex-obsessed eccentric art collector.

Director – Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Producers – Stanley Buchthal, David Koh, Dan Braun and Lisa Immordino Vreeland

with: Arne Glimcher, Robert De Niro, Marina Abramovic, Larry Gagosian, Lindsay Pollock

This article © galleryIntell.

*Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Guggenheim Museum.

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