Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland.
As a filmmaker, Lisa Immordino Vreeland seems drawn towards telling the story of eccentric but creative women. This revealing and thoroughly researched documentary follows the deeply personal Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, which documented the life of her grandmother, the famed fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and offers up a detailed portrait of Peggy Guggenheim, who died in 1979.
Not many people probably know much about Peggy Guggenheim, heiress to a family fortune, black sheep of her family, and an enigmatic but iconic patron of the arts and avid art collector. Her early bohemian lifestyle in the vibrant Paris in the 1930s shaped her interest and passion for art. She moved amongst some of the great artists and intellectuals of the lime, mixing with the likes of Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Dali, Picasso, Marcel Duchamp. She collected lots of works from modernists and surrealists, and she even cultivated artists like Jackson Pollock. She opened art galleries in London and New York, and also created one of the world’s great art collections which is housed as a permanent collection in her luxurious palazzo in Venice. Her collection is still one of the most visited art galleries in the world.
The film scratches the surface of her complex and troubled life, one which was often marked by scandal, broken marriages, promiscuity and a series of sexual escapades. Her life was also shaped by tragedy and sadness (her father was one of the many who went down on the ill-fated Titanic in 1912 and one of her daughters committed suicide). But she also showed courage when she entered Nazi occupied Paris to spirit out a number of valuable art works.
This documentary is a rich and layered portrait of a woman who championed many modern artists and who was ahead of her time. A number of talking head interviews from powerful figures like Marina Abromavic and art dealer Larry Gagosian provide further insight into Guggenheim’s vivacious personality and her almost uncanny knack of staying on the cusp of what was trending in the art world.
But the biggest coup is a series of interviews that Guggenheim taped with Jacqueline Weld, her biographer. The tapes were long thought lost, but Vreeland uncovered them in Weld’s basement during production, and has used them judiciously throughout the film to add a candid and more personal touch to the material. She talks of her desire to escape from the trappings of her conservative upbringing.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is shaped like a fairly conventional documentary. It unfolds in largely chronological order and draws upon a wealth of archival footage and intimate photographs to give us some insights into the enigmatic Guggenheim. But the story it explores is certainly a fascinating one and whets the appetite for audiences to learn more about her. The visuals are accompanied by a jaunty jazz influenced score that is evocative of the era.
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