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Film Reviews Peggy Guggenheim: Doc shows the life of art collector and patron

Documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict follows Guggenheim’s role as an art collector.

Roloff Beny/Courtesy of National Archives of Canada

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
Directed by
Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

Peggy Guggenheim systematically spirited her now-priceless art collection out of occupied Paris, before the Nazis could destroy what they deemed "degenerate" art – works by the likes of Kandinsky, Chagall, Brancusi and Picasso. History has been kinder to the modern art movement (work that curators of the day, and her own uncle Solomon, once likened to trash) than it has been to its pre-eminent patron.

With Art Addict, director Lisa Immordino Vreeland makes a case for Guggenheim's role as a serious collector, particularly since her prophetic, intuitive vision has either been overshadowed by her flamboyant personal life or ascribed to the men in her orbit. The chronological focus is on her rebellious curiosity from a young age, her cultural awakening and eight-year collection process of European and American abstract, cubist and surrealist art in combination, and finally, her museum strategy.

There are entertaining and ribald stories (husband Max Ernst dressed in her clothes! The tryst with Samuel Beckett!) along the way and a treat of rare archival footage of many artists, works and ephemera. Plus, art-world boldface such as Marina Abramovic and Larry Gagosian weigh in, as does long-time friend and art historian Sir John Richardson and even Robert De Niro, of whose artist parents Guggenheim was an early champion (Jackson Pollock being, naturally, the most famous of her dozens of protégés). The patron speaks for herself, too, answering questions from beyond the grave via another biographer's previously unreleased interview tapes (from 1979, the year she died at the age of 81). All seem in agreement that the combination of wealth and gender worked against her; she was simultaneously dismissed as a dilettante and slut-shamed for merely being as sexually liberated as the boho men of the era. By her own legendary admission, Guggenheim had thousands of lovers and pursued art and sex in equal measure; this documentary goes a way to rebalancing that the addiction of the title actually took precedence.

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