Patron, gallerist, lover, friend, mother and devoted dog owner (14 of her Lhasa Apsos are buried in her Venice palazzo garden), Peggy Guggenheim mixed it up with the Dadaists and the surrealists in Paris in the 1920s, introduced their bold ready-mades and dreamscapes to the London art world of the 1930s, and championed Jackson Pollock and the abstract expressionists in her hometown, New York, in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Yet, for all her influence and impact on 20th-century art, the Philadelphia-born Guggenheim remained a refreshingly straightforward and guileless figure — or so say the friends and associates interviewed in the richly informative and fascinating “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.”
As if confirming that assessment, Guggenheim’s own voice runs through Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary, including in recordings from presumed-lost, in-depth interview sessions from 1978 and 1979, the last year of her life. Candid, funny and matter-of-fact, Guggenheim casually drops the names of her daunting list of lovers (Samuel Beckett, Constantin Brancusi, Max Ernst), reflects on her family’s many tragedies (her father went down with the Titanic, one of her sisters died, the other sister may have killed her two young children) and speaks of a life that “was all about art and love.”
A few of the talking heads in “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” offer their observations with an air of insufferable pomposity (guiltiest party: art critic John Richardson), but they are outnumbered by writers, critics, family and friends who speak of Guggenheim with affection and authority.
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Robert De Niro remembers stopping to see her collection in her palazzo on the Grand Canal when he was a young backpacker thumbing his way across Europe. Guggenheim had purchased paintings by De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral. One of them hung in the entryway to Guggenheim’s Venetian home.
Mercedes Ruehl, who played Guggenheim in the one-woman show “Woman Before a Glass,” reflects on her remarkable independence and self-possession, slipping into Guggenheim’s cadences as she does so.
Guggenheim saw herself as a “midwife,” helping new and radical artists with their careers. “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” shows how her tastes were formed (Marcel Duchamp was a mentor). In the film’s interview, Guggenheim marvels at how the Jackson Pollocks she bought for a few hundred dollars back in the day were worth millions now.
As Vreeland pans and scans several of these paintings, and other masterworks that Guggenheim collected over the decades, it’s impossible not to fall in awe of their beauty, their force.
That may be the best reason of all to see this illuminating film.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
4 stars out of 5
Cast: Peggy Guggenheim, Robert De Niro, Larry Gagosian, John Richardson, Mercedes Ruehl.
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland.
Running time: 1:37.
Rated: Not rated, but has adult themes.