Art collector Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) is today as well known for her numerous affairs and one-night stands with such bohemian icons as playwright Samuel Beckett and sculptor Constantin Brancusi as she is for her passionate promotion of modern art.
As she cracks wise, possibly only half joking, in the affectionate documentary “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” she was hoping that the sculptor would give her a discount. (He didn’t.)
She probably didn’t really need one.
A scion of a wealthy, culturally connected family — her uncle Solomon R. Guggenheim’s name is on the famous New York art museum — Peggy, as she is referred to throughout the film, inherited a bit of her family’s money and all of its business acumen, amassing a collection of more than 100 modernist art works, chiefly before and during World War II, for about $40,000. As she notes in an interview from the late 1970s, any single piece from that collection she built was by then worth well more than that.
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland and structured mainly around audio recordings from 1978 and 1979 that were once thought to have been lost, “Peggy Guggenheim” is a lively, refreshingly candid portrait of a woman variously described by biographers, historians and acquaintances as eccentric, narcissistic, the “poor Guggenheim” and — by the film’s subject herself — as a kind of “midwife” to modernism.
That description jibes with several others offered up. She’s called a catalyst at one point and a bridge figure elsewhere, one who drew connections between abstraction and surrealism and between the European and American art worlds. (She ran galleries in London and New York from 1938 to 1946.)
Peggy Guggenheim may not have made Jackson Pollock famous; a 1949 article in Life magazine did. But she lent him money that enabled him to buy a house and build a studio, and she commissioned him to paint a mural for her New York apartment when he was still working as a carpenter for her uncle’s incipient museum.
She also slept with him — but only once, when his wife, Lee Krasner, was out of town, so that hardly counts, as she wryly notes.
Art, apparently, wasn’t the only thing Peggy Guggenheim was addicted to. In the 1970s tapes, she calls herself a “nymphomaniac” and says the only thing she regrets about being old is that she can’t take more lovers. As this film’s engrossing character study makes clear, this woman of extraordinary tastes and appetites was ahead of her time, in more ways than one.
(At the Tivoli.)
‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict’
Not rated. Time: 1:36.