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One of the most fascinating art-world characters who wasn’t an artist herself gets her due in Peggy Guggenheim — Art Addict, a doc by Lisa Immordino Vreeland so stuffed with connections and allusions to fabled eras it’s hard to imagine any modern art lover being bored. Sharply put together and consistently entertaining, it’s a natural companion in many ways to Vreeland’s debut, 2011’s Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. The doc has considerable arthouse appeal and should enjoy a long live on video.
Making ample use of tapes that were recorded in 1978-79 for a biography, boxed up, and never heard since, Vreeland has an engaging soundtrack of interviews to go with a museum’s worth of images; she also interviews a swath of present-day art world professionals to assess the impact of a compulsive art collector who championed her era’s most important painters and sculptors. Rock star curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist and dealer Larry Gagosian chime in; Marina Abramovic speaks of the importance of patrons versus mere collectors; even Robert De Niro shows up, revealing that both his parents were artists in Guggenheim’s stable.
The film gives just enough background on Peggy’s family to shed light on her personality: On both sides, immigrant families had made fortunes; plenty of them were “off their rockers”; Dad died on the Titanic, though the mistress he was traveling with escaped. Too homely to feel at ease in the society world, Peggy went to work in a bookstore at 21 and was forever after in the thrall of people with more ideas than money.
We bounce from one cultural capital to another with Guggenheim: to Paris, where she settled into a pattern of sleeping with all the artists and writers she could, and had “so many abortions”; to London, where she opened the Guggenheim Jeune gallery and had her eye for art developed by Marcel Duchamp; back to Paris, assembling a world-class collection of “Degenerate Art” before Hitler could come destroy it; marrying Max Ernst, who “didn’t give a damn for her”; and returning to New York, where she founded the groundbreaking Art of This Century Gallery and became the “midwife” of American modern painting. (New York’s famous Guggenheim Museum was established by her uncle Solomon, and had no connection to her until years later.) Keeping Jackson Pollock afloat may have been her proudest achievement, but the list of artists who had their first exhibitions with Guggenheim is staggering.
Within the decade she had moved to Venice, where she would settle down, throw great parties, tend to dozens of dogs, and watch the world grasp the scope of what she’d done. In a brisk hour and a half Vreeland gives a good sense of her impact, while telling stories of so many love affairs and ego clashes Art Addict never feels a bit like a history lesson.
Production companies: Dakota Group, Fischio Films, Submarine Entertainment
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Screenwriters: Bernadine Colish, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, John Northrup
Producers: Stanley Buchthal, David Koh, Dan Braun, Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Executive producers: Maja Hoffmann, Josh Braun, Bob Benton
Director of photography: Peter Trilling
Editors: Bernadine Colish, Jed Parker
Music: J. Ralph
Sales: David Koh, Submarine Entertainment
No rating, 95 minutes
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