Exploring The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

What attracts you to artwork? For me, initial attractions vary. The lasting ones are those which trigger an emotional response. In addition, learning about the artist, the message they intended and the provenance of their work, either enhances or reduces a piece’s appeal to me.

This past spring, when in Venice, I spent an afternoon viewing The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Below are some of my favourites. The last two were acquired by the museum after Peggy’ Guggenheim’s death.

While Peggy Guggenheim initially sought out the advice of art experts when building her collection, her selections were based on her own preferences. She often had a personal connection with the artists whose work she acquired. Art brought her a great deal of enjoyment.

The Antipope, Dec 1941 – Mar 1942. Max Ernst (1891 – 1976)

This Surrealist piece was the first to command my attention at the museum. I kept going back to it. It’s a fascinating, disturbing and sad painting.

the-antipope2

The Antipope. Photo: juliesea

Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst married in December 1941, the month Ernst began to create this painting. Peggy believed that Ernst had portrayed her as the figure third from the right, with Ernst representing himself as the black horse. Some scholars agree with this interpretation. Others suggest Peggy Guggenheim is the figure to the far left. You can learn about “The Antipope” via this link to the Guggenheim site.

Just as the poet the has to write down what is being thought – voiced – inside of him, so the painter has to limn and give objective form to what is visible inside of him.” – Max Ernst

Silver Bed Head 1945-46. “Sandy” Alexander Calder (1889 – 1976)

The whimsy of the piece engages me. That it was a personal item of Peggy’s, rather than one commissioned for her museum, is also appealing. Calder created this work of art specifically for Peggy Guggenheim. There is a photo of Peggy in her bedroom at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in my previous post. Calder’s sculpture is on the wall, above her bed.

Best known for his amazing mobiles, it’s not surprising Calder’s background was in mechanical engineering. He studied the discipline at university, then worked in the field for about six years before becoming a sculptor. To learn more about Calder and his work, please visit the Calder Foundation website.

Calder Bedhead Photo Patrick Huber

Silver Bed Head, Calder. Photo: Patrick Huber

Sculptures after Picasso’s sketches, 1964. Egidio Costantini (1912 -2007)

It’s Costantini’s life story makes these sculptures of particular interest to me.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection Blue Glass Sculptures

Sculptures after Picasso’s sketches. Photos: L. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection R. Patrick Huber

Born in southern Italy, Costantini grew up in Venice. After training to become a radio telegraph operator, he worked as a bank clerk. Later, he obtained a degree in botany. His interest in glass began when he worked as an agent for several Murano glass factories. Gradually, Costantini learned the art of glass blowing from the master Murano craftsmen and began experimenting with glass. He envisioned glass as an art medium rather than as a material suited only for functional applications. Through collaborations with artists and master Venetian glass blowers, he began to create his vision. He set up an artists’ co-operative in 1950 called Fucina degli Angeli (Forge of Angels). After achieving some success, he ran into financial difficulties and closed it in 1958. Costantini met Peggy Guggenheim in 1961 through a friend. She provided him with the funds needed to revitalize the company. You can read more about Costantini at fucinadegliangeli.com. The website is in Italian, Google Translate worked well for me.

You can see the grand Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda through the window screen behind the glass sculptures. Please refer to my previous post to read about the link between the Corners and the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni which houses The Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

The New Gates of Paradise, 1960. Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997)

What a perfect name. The gates lead into the palazzo’s garden oasis, to the home Peggy Guggenheim lived in for 30 years (I think that the longest I’ve lived in one place is 4 years – my husband calls me a nomad – maybe I just need some gates to paradise). Falkenstein’s creation is both functional and fascinating. Their design makes me think of dense bramble bushes.

Peggy commissioned her friend, Claire Falkenstein, an American sculptor and painter, to create the gates. Claire had lived in Paris for a number of years. While there, she became interested in the relationship between space and matter. In this piece, welded iron rods create a multidimensional web around chunks of Venetian glass; instilling a sense of depth greater that the actual thickness of the panels.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice The New Gates of Paradise. Claire Falkenstein

The New Gates of Paradise. Photo: Detlef Schober

Detail of The New Gates of Paradise. Claire Falkenstein. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Detail of The New Gates of Paradise. Photo: Detlef Schober

Bird in Space, 1932-40. Constantin Brâncuși (1876 – 1957)

Brancusi Bird in Space

Photo: rocor

I find the deceptive simplicity of this sculpture appealing. This is another artwork that was close to Peggy Guggenheim’s heart.  That it had such importance to her gives me a greater appreciation of it.

She had been friends with Brâncuși, and an admirer of his work, for sixteen years before she bought one of his sculptures. “Bird in Space” sculpture was the second of his sculptures added to her collection. Although she had long admired the series, she and Brâncuși had a bitter argument of the asking price when she first tried to buy it. They did not speak for months afterwards. Weeks before German troops invaded Paris during WWII, Brâncuși finally sold the sculpture to Peggy Guggenheim. It was an emotional moment for the artist. In Confessions of Art Addict, Peggy Guggenheim writes, “Tears were streaming down Brâncuși’s face. I was genuinely touched. I never knew why he was so upset, but assumed it was because he was parting with his favorite bird.” 

Through the highly-polished, smooth bronze surface and elongated tapering shape of the bird, Brâncuși wanted to convey the “essence of flight.” By minimizing the physical attributes of the bird, we are left to focus on the its movement; its ability to quickly ascend into the sky. Please visit theartstory.org to read a short summary about Brâncuși and his work.

La Sibilla, 1947. Pericle Fazzini (1913-1987)

The sculpture shown in the photo below was one my favourites in the garden. Sibilla sits, lost in thought, with the warm summer sun on her back. Her serene smile captured my attention.

Venice Peggy Guggenheim Collection

La Sibilla. Photo: Sara Lynne Moffatt

Please visit the Guggenheim site to read more about Fazzini. The sculpture was a 2012 bequest of art patron Hannelore B. Schulhof, who once said

“Art is almost like a religion. It is what gives my life dimension beyond the material world we live in.”

Savor Kindess Because Cruelty is Always Possible Later, 1983. Jenny Holzer (1950 – )

I first learned of American artist Jenny Holzer in the early 1990’s. I was living in Toronto, Canada at the time. She was in town to present and discuss her work. It was my first exposure to text being used as a standalone art form. The phrases she uses are provocative and unsettling. They make me stop, look and think.
Speaking about what motivates and inspires her work, Jenny Holzer says:

“I wanted to offer content that people – not necessarily art people – could understand.” (Interview Magazine, 2012) “I’m inclined to work on dark things. Sadly, the world is always offering up something dark and dreadful.” (The Guardian, 2013)

The bench shown below is part of her 1983 Survival series. Another phrase from this series is “Protect me from what I want.” On the series, Jenny Holzer says,

“I wanted to support things that are helpful to people and maybe bash what I think is dangerous.” (NY Times, 1989).

savor-kindness-photo-richard-enjoy-my-life2

Photo: Richard, enjoy my life!

Jenny Holzer won the prestigious Leone d’Oro (Golden Lion) for her exhibition at the 1990 Venice Biennale. She was the first woman to represent the United States at the exhibition. While the Guggenheim connection with Jenny Holzer dates back to that Biennale, unfortunately, Peggy Guggenheim, who died in 1979, never met the artist. Knowing what we know about Peggy, it’s likely that she would have enjoyed meeting the artist.
Art (seeing it, creating it, learning about it, thinking about it, talking about it) makes my life richer and helps to keep my brain humming. How does art bring bring enjoyment to your life? Do you have a favourite quote about art or one said by an artist?

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