Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

2015-12-15-1450198050-7732243-IMG_1588.jpg
Lisa Immordino Vreeland's Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict illustrates all that is wrong with the art world and all also all that is wrong with being an artist, to the extent that it underscores the way in which narcissistic grandiosity can camouflage itself as a spiritual quest. As she's depicted in the movie Guggenheim is truly repugnant (though the despicable nature of her character also exudes the sadness of the poor little not so rich girl). In 1939, at the outbreak of the war, she spends $40,000 to acquire the works of many artists who desperately needed money to escape the Nazi onslaught. Hitler had in fact pointed his finger at modernism in his l937 Degenerate Art Exhibition. She picked up works by the likes Leger and Brancusi and in the course bedded literally any artist who came into her path. Writers weren't exempt. She'd once spent four days in a hotel room bed with Beckett, who only got up to get sandwiches left at the door by room service. It's an anecdote which makes one realize that even the most brilliant and demanding of wordsmiths can still be afflicted with bad taste. She was a bottom feeder, who had a good "nose" and hung around with talents like Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst--to whom she was unhappily married. Speaking of her famed proboscis, she seemed to take pride in a botched up rhinoplasty that even Cyrano might have had second thoughts parading about. Her sister Hazel had purportedly thrown her two children off the roof of her apartment building and the art addict, really sex addict, that Vreeland's movie paints was not much of a mother either. Soul Murder is the title of a book by the analyst Leonard Shengold and Guggenheim's emotional abandonment of her two children Pegeen (who died of an overdose) and Sindbad Vail fits the bill entirely. When she returned to the states in l942 she established a gallery on 57th Street, The Art of This Century (she described her at the time scandalous book Out of This Century: Confesssions of an Art Addict as being about "fucking") in which she showed the work of Still, Baziotes, Pollock, de Chirico, Rothko among others. She exhibited the works of both Robert de Niro's mother and father. When asked what role she played in the development of 20th century American art she said, "I gave birth to it. I was the midwife." She was never known for her modesty. Mary McCarthy wrote a highly critical story about Guggenheim called "The Cicerone." Merriam-Webster defines cicerone as "a guide who conducts sightseers." The portrait the movie paints, whether intentionally or not, is of a promoter and impresario doing for modernism what Phil Spector did for rock 'n roll. Actually the two had something in common. Both had tremendous commercial instincts and an obsessional streak when it came to sex. Guggenheim said in her later years, "I wish I were young enough to have lovers." In Spector's case the results were a little more dire. He was convicted of second degree murder in the death of the actress Lana Clarkson. Still she succeeded in collecting some great works as well as men and her legacy, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, now resides on the site of the Venetian palazzo where she lived for 30 years.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}

watercolor by Hallie Cohen