Review of Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

Roloff Beny / Courtesy of National Archives of Canada, Roloff Beny / Courtesy of National Archives of Canada, "Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice".

This is the kind of movie that would be largely forgotten, a hidden treasure in the documentary section of a quiet video store, if it wasn’t for a limited release in theatres looking for something a little different.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is an art-house film that spotlights not only some of the great art of the 20th century, but also a great figure responsible for bringing these artists into public awareness. Peggy Guggenheim lived for art, but her tumultuous personal life and family history makes for a fascinating glimpse into what made her such a strong force in the art world from as early as the 1930s. The Guggenheim lineage was ridiculously wealthy but beset by a lot of personal tragedy, and this is perhaps why Peggy Guggenheim was determined to move forward through every setback she encountered.

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland presents Ms. Guggenheim as an eccentric devotee of art, lacking in any artistic talent herself but committed beyond her family’s approval to establish a compelling gallery for any artist that caught her exclusive eye. Shortly before she died, Guggenheim commissioned a biographer to tell her life story and left the recordings behind at the biographer’s house. These recordings as a centerpiece really enliven Vreeland’s doc, as Guggenheim’s child-like voice is very moving when prompted to talk about some of her disappointments. Some become too painful for her to describe in detail, so she gives an evasive answer; others get her to reminisce so heartily that she ends up making a crack or two at the expense of an ex-lover. Not surprisingly, she seemed to have a knack for attracting flamboyant, brilliant personalities, not unlike herself, who were willing to go to great lengths for their work and self-promotion at a time when world wars were threatening basic livelihoods everywhere.

Roloff Beny / Courtesy of National Archives of Canada, "Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice".

Roloff Beny / Courtesy of National Archives of Canada, “Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice”.

Great 20th century masters like Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, and Kandinsky were among her lovers, friends, and recipients of her precocious generosity, and many of their early works were featured in ground-breaking shows like Art of This Century, in New York. Robert De Niro, whose parents were both painters and quite accomplished, gives this doc his blessing by talking about his experiences meeting Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, and seeing a painting by his mother, Virginia, hanging prominently on the walls long before his explosion onto the scene as an actor.

It’s hard to capture just what exactly makes a large-than-life figure like Peggy Guggenheim tick, but this doc does a good job of presenting a woman full of contradictions; feisty and fragile, bold and insecure, open and complex – a true original that’s worth venturing out of the house for.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is now playing at Cinema du Parc.

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