Sunday, February 20, 2011

out of this world

Several years ago I visited the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery in Venice with my family, and surely, it is one of the most special and intimate art collections there is. Situated in this glorious Palazzo on the Grand Canal, the museum houses startling pieces of modern art. If asked to sum up the museum and the experience in one word, bright is the only word for it. The museum itself, although small, is bright and light - filled, the art – the Kandinsky’s, the Picasso’s – all so bright and vivid and mesmerizing in their shocking colour, and the sun outside hot and bright in the picturesque courtyard.

Vassily Kandinsky, Landscape with Red Spots No.2, 1913 (source)
The Venetian museum’s art collection is astonishing. I can remember staring at Kandinsky’s Landscape with Red Spots No. 2 , not knowing what it was about, but knowing that those vivacious multi – coloured daubs of paint stunned something within, and that there was power in that colour. Or a Francis Bacon quietly tucked away in a corner and a bronze cast of Brancusi’s Bird in Space residing in the hall way – it doesn’t get much better.

Nude Descending a Staircase, Marcel Duchamp, 1913, The Empire of Light, Rene Magritte, 1953-54, Study for Chimpanzee, Francis Bacon, 1957.

But, the really fascinating thing about the museum is the woman behind it. Peggy Guggenheim was a fascinating and some might even say scandalous woman. From her father’s tragic but morbidly – glamorous death aboard the Titanic to her affairs with artists including Max Ernst and friendships and affiliations with artistic heavyweights such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp and patron to none other than Jackson Pollack, Peggy had a sensational life – as bizarre and as enthralling as the modern art she was partial to.

Peggy before Picasso's On the Beach, 1968, (getty), Peggy and Jackson Pollack with Pollack's mural in background, (source), Peggy holding an artwork by her daughter Pegeen Vail, 1948, (source), Peggy's portrait by Man Ray, 1924 (rijksmusuem)

Peggy was no angel – now, there’s an understatement. She had poor relationships with her children and seemingly spent a life recklessly pursuing men to make up for the premature loss of her beloved father. But regardless, Peggy is rather brilliant. In 1942 she opened her New York gallery, Art of This Century Gallery, which played a critical role in providing a platform for new artists’ works in New York at the time. Her image was cultivated as art patron rather than art dealer, and Guggenheim commented on the opening of her gallery: “Opening this gallery and its collection to the public during a time when people are fighting for their lives and freedom is a responsibility of which I am fully conscious. This undertaking will serve its purpose only if it succeeds in serving the future instead of recording the past.” Indeed, Peggy seemed to be wholly aware of the democratic aspirations of abstract art.

In 1947 she closed the Art of This Century Gallery, and in 1949 she established herself at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, Venice. Peggy’s collection contains masterpieces by Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Magritte, Miro, Mondrian, Malevich, Dali, Pollack...a who’s who of abstract, surrealist and Dada art of the early twentieth century.

All art and sensation aside, my particular fascination with Peggy has a lot to do with her trademark butterfly sunglasses...I’m a sucker for the weird and wonderful. I hear she quite liked couture too AND just take a look at her beloved Lhaso Apso doggies whom she was buried with.


Tea For Two said...

Thank you so much for the bio on Peggy Guggenheim. I never knew a fucking thing about that chick, which is pathetic. So glad I've stumbled upon a chance to learn about her.

Kandinsky is awesome. I don't think his pieces need to be understood - they just speak to the child in us.

discotheque confusion said...

Ooh, I was thinking about Peggy G just a couple of days ago. Am I imagining it or did one of the NYFW shows use her as a muse? I've been looking through so many reports over the last week they've all blurred!

Also I remember that Bacon painting really impressing me too. I think it was that sort of stained look (the colour of a really good raspberry ice cream..) of the painting's colours against the plain white walls.

ApollineR said...

I didn't know this museum. I will add it to my to-visit list

Anonymous said...

Very awesome post! x

Tea For Two said...

Featured this post on my blog today in a list called Créme de la Blog which sums up some of my favourite recent posts in blog land :)