Arts & Books

Film: The eccentric art lover with an eye for genius

Peggy Guggenheim: moved in heady circles and wasunapologetically promiscuous

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (cert 15, 95 mins) is a documentary that pays entertaining tribute to a woman it argues was the “midwife” to much of the most important modern art of the last century. A grand claim perhaps, but Guggenheim, whose uncle Solomon’s foundation built the famous art museums in New York and Bilbao that share the family name, was an early backer of the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Picasso. She ran influential galleries of her own in England and America, before finally settling down with her collection in Venice.

Thanks to recently unearthed interviews with Guggenheim’s biographer, we hear her story in her own words, supplemented by observations from an array of friends, associates, critics and relatives.

Art Addict proffers the idea that Guggenheim’s gift was for recognising genius quicker than the average art connoisseur. When she left Paris at the start of the Second World War, the Louvre told her that the collection she had steadily built up was not worth saving from the Nazis. She had to arrange safe passage for her paintings by herself. Towards the end of her life, Guggenheim took great delight when the Louvre welcomed her, and her by now universally recognised collection, back to France for an exhibition.

The documentary also showcases Guggenheim the complex eccentric. She refused to do anything to correct a botched nose job and owned more than 50 dogs throughout her life. She was unapologetically promiscuous, counting Max Ernst, Samuel Beckett and John Cage among her many partners. She moved in heady circles but in many ways seems to have been an unhappy, lonely woman. The film suggests that Guggenheim was only truly at ease when she was amid the artworks she loved, and those who share her love for the art of the last century will delight in this affectionate and witty portrait of a true one-off.

Where Guggenheim was obsessed with modern art, US auteur Guy Maddin is fixated on cinema of the past. His preoccupation with film history is given free rein in his latest phantasmagoric effort, The Forbidden Room (12A, 119 mins) which blends tropes from classic European cinema, silent film and early talkies.

Encapsulating what happens is virtually impossible. This is an impressionistic collage of vaguely linked fables and flashbacks. Storylines include a lumberjack popping up on a cut-adrift submarine, a moustache taking on a life of its own and a man turning into a rotten banana. Charlotte Rampling features briefly.

The film has a nice line in throwaway humour and Maddin’s commitment to madness and minutiae is admirable. But the relentless wackiness swiftly becomes wearisome and then plain annoying.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict – 4 stars
The Forbidden Room – 2 stars

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (11/12/15)

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