From parisian avant-gardes to the lagoon
Her gaze was deep and intense, it was the gaze of an attentive and curious woman who was constantly on the look for something: a perspective, a goal, a new experience. The young silk-dressed Peggy Guggenheim Man Ray photographed in Paris in the crazy ‘20s and the mature woman who welcomed us to Venice in the ‘50s share the same eyes. Clever and cultured eyes that made writers and poets fall in love – clever eyes that discovered great artists and built up one of the greatest collections of the XX century. Peggy Guggenheim’s life is marked by tragic events, unique encounters and radical choices. Born in New York in 1898, Peggy lost her father in 1912, in the sinking of the Titanic. She spent her youth between France and England. Duchamp convinced her to open her first gallery in Paris – the Guggenheim Jeune – where she exhibited works by Dada and Surrealist artists, as well as abstract works by Kandinsky, Malevič and Calder. She became a “modern-art-addict” collector who used to travel between Europe and the US. However, in 1948, after the closure of her gallery in New York, she was invited to exhibit her collection in the XXIV Venice Biennale and decided to move to Venice. She settled in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where she lived and worked until her death, in 1979, The“L’ultima Dogaressa” exhibition, which is running at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection until January 27, and which is curated by Karole P.B. Vail and Gražina Subelytė, retraces the thirty years the American patron spent in Italy.
The museum presents about sixty works including paintings, sculptures and works on paper, as well as a series of scrapbooks in which she collected newspaper articles, photographs and letters. The exhibition opens with the exponents of American abstract expressionism Peggy presented to Europe at the Biennale in 1948: Gorky, Motherwell, Rothko, and – of course – Pollock. The present exhibition features two works by Pollock, Alchemy and Enchanted Forest, which recall the artist’s first solo show in Europe, which took place in Piazza San Marco in 1950. The exhibition continues with some sculptures by Brancusi, Giacometti and Arp, as well as abstract works dating from the ‘40s by Italian artists Dorazio, Parmeggiani and Vedova. During the ‘50s, Peggy took an interest in the CoBrA artist group: Alechinsky, Appel, Jorn, and contemporary British artists Bacon, Moore and Sutherland. Until the discovery, in the ‘60s, of kinetic and op art, with Biasi, Mack and Vasarely. Peggy Geggenheim proved able to interpret the evolution of modern art over the twentieth century, embodying the transition from the old to the new world. A life spent in the name of love and beauty that is narrated in her autobiography: “Una vita per l’arte” (Rizzoli Editore, Milan, 1998). Peggy’s gaze changed the way in which we look at beauty. And her gaze has now become ours.
Karole P. B. Vail