Art lover’s colorful life now displayed onscreen
She played tennis with Ezra Pound and counted a days-long sexual tryst with Samuel Beckett among her amorous adventures. Nearly any chapter of Peggy Guggenheim’s extraordinary life could fill a feature-length film: the childhood shaped by wealth, eccentricity and her philandering father’s death on the Titanic; her own difficult marriages and parenthood; and, especially, her pivotal role as an art collector, patron and gallerist.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland deftly choreographs the story in her vibrant documentary “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” at once a capsule history of modernism and a poignant personal portrait. With its jaunty jazz score and wellchosen archival material, the film finds Guggenheim where the bohemian action is, beginning with Paris of the 1920s. Ultimately, she created her own art mecca in the Venetian palazzo where the public can view her collection to this day.
Vreeland gives the art its due, interweaving images of dozens of the surrealist and abstract expressionist works that Guggenheim bought well before they were fashionable or prized. Friends and experts offer insightful comments, crisply edited, on the woman and her work. One expert’s remark about her “lack of beauty” is rankling to contemporary sensibilities, but it astutely echoes the conventions that Guggenheim defied. Mercedes Ruehl, who played her onstage, shares penetrating observations. But it’s Guggenheim’s voice that gives the film its indelible edge.
Audiotapes that Vreeland MPAA rating: None. Running time: 1:35 Opens: Friday uncovered in a biographer’s basement document an interview in the last year of Guggenheim’s life. (She died in 1979 at age 81.) Whether the subject is her upbringing or Jackson Pollock’s ingratitude for her instrumental support, she speaks in a clipped, dry manner. Yet her wit comes through, often entwined with a biting sadness. Discussing her childhood, she says, unforgettably, “I don’t think there were any good mothers in those days.”
Peggy Guggenheim at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni with Alexander Calder, Arc of Petals (1941).