Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

Playing now at the San Rafael Film Center, this documentary celebrates a fully liberated woman and art collector of the 20th century whose enormous influence on the art world dominates to this day.  Obviously, Peggy Guggenheim’s life cannot be contained by a 97 minute film, and the film’s earnestness to pay her tribute gets bogged down in details.  The film is so chock full of names, faces, and art objects, it leaves one rather dazed by the end, and its rapid survey requires a conversant familiarity with key figures of the 20th Century avant garde.  Yet it fascinates, describing her friendships and liaisons with the likes of Marcel DuChamp, Jackson Pollock, Samuel Beckett, and Max Ernst, to name a few.

More significantly, the film chronicles Guggenheim’s escape as a Jew from Europe in World War II on the brink of Germany’s invasion of Paris.   Risking her own life, she amassed an entire museum’s worth of artwork for the sum of $40,000, even retrieving works off the walls of the Louvre deemed “not worth saving” under the encroaching attack of Hitler.  She went on to establish The Art of This Century in New York City, a radical museum concept that allowed visitors to spin paintings around.

Most of the film winds around a set of audiotapes found in a basement by the filmmaker.  These tapes held Peggy Guggenheim’s last interview, and she answers the most probing  questions with unfettered honesty.  She freely describes a troubled family, multiple marriages, and an unmatched commitment to art collecting.  Art Addict paints a paradoxical life of a woman highly social yet isolated, sexually liberated but often unwanted, and an outsider who placed herself at the epicenter of the modern art world.