And what a woman she was. The new documentary, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, using tapes recorded at the end of her life—and mysteriously “lost” in a basement—reveals her as a truth-teller, and a woman with a superb, intuitive eye for the vast changes in painting that happened, largely in New York, over her lifetime.
Peggy Guggenheim established what was one of the very rare personal collections of such merit and originality that a museum was designed for it—the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. With her usual frankness, Peggy compared the museum to a garage—all those circular tiers! It now appears outdated. But her collection lives on.
All those big names, and never a woman’s, although she did have a show in the gallery she owned earlier, first in London and then in New York, of thirty-one women artists.
All those big names, many of whom were not so much her lovers as her one-night stands, with the exception of Max Ernst. And it may be that her openness about seducing an artist whose painting she wanted to acquire, in the frank hope that sex would lower the price, is what causes all the male commentators in the documentary to focus on that aspect of her life.
It is interesting to see these collectors and other authorities in the East Coast art world struggling to try to combine what they know, or think they know, about Peggy Guggenheim’s sex life with the equally baffling question of her extraordinary acuity as a collector.
Yet, as is the case with Doris Duke, confusion about unexplainable genius in a woman is rapidly reduced to a bemused examination of her sex appeal.
How she developed her eye for art is in the end a puzzle that can’t be solved literally.
How she developed her independence is actually an equally indecipherable puzzle although it certainly helped that she came from a noted family of eccentrics who sometimes were in fact mad. Her sister dumped her two babies off the fourteenth story of a hotel rather than letting them be raised by their father. An aunt repeated everything she said three times, another sang her syllables—but growing up in the Edwardian age could easily bring on these antics in women too big to fit into their prescribed roles.
Peggy Guggenheim would be proud to know she can’t be explained.
Andrew Harvey, the British mystic, talks about escaping the “concentration camp” of upper-class British education in his early twenties and fleeing to India where he had an extraordinary erotic experience with the god Krishna.
And it is with his eye—the mystic’s eye—rather than the eye of the academic or intellectual that should be applied to Peggy Guggenheim’s shimmering life. None of the men chosen to discuss her have that eye, or would want to have it. It is only from the non-abstract world of art, myth and legend that an understanding of this extraordinary woman can develop…
As is the case with Doris Duke.