Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

(USA 2015)

If you were to pull out the chapters on modernism from an art history textbook and shuffle them together with Confidential magazine, the result no doubt would look a lot like Lisa Immordino Vreeman’s Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. Guggenheim led a colorful life—literally and figuratively—filled with art, sex, and a fair amount of darkness.

With audio from a tape recorded interview—Guggenheim’s last—presumed lost until found in a basement during the making of this film, Guggenheim herself in her clipped, matter-of-fact way discusses her childhood, her time in Paris during the 1920s, her abusive marriage to Laurence Vail that ended in divorce after seven years, her relationship with her two children, her sex life, and her entry into the art world. She hung out with the likes of Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. She tricked with, inter alia, Marcel Duchamp, John Holms (not a porn star), Samuel Beckett, and Max Ernst (to whom she was married for a short time). She was among the first to show many artists, including Vasily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, Robert de Niro, Sr. (father of the actor), Arshile Gorky, and Jackson Pollock, whose “discovery” she was most proud to claim.

For all her antics, though, Guggenheim’s life was not all fun and games. Her father went down with the Titanic when she was 13 years old. Vail “hit” her. Holms, who she said was the love of her life (despite the fact that he was married), died after a routine hand surgery. She had seven abortions. She wound up estranged from her son, Sinbad, and her daughter, Pagette, died under mysterious circumstances at age 40. To top it all off, she had a nose job that didn’t turn out right; she never fixed it because the experience was too physically painful.

Immordino Vreeman does an excellent job balancing Guggenheim’s considerable achievements with salacious details of her life, giving just enough to keep us tuned in. The gossip doesn’t overshadow the fact that Guggenheim, however flawed, was a fascinating woman way ahead of her time. Illuminating, fun, and never a dull moment, I enjoyed Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict very much.

(Music Box) B+

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