If you’re a modern art lover, you’ve certainly heard of the Guggenheim family, particularly their “black sheep” Peggy, who, through her life as a family heiress, gave many artists their ultimate chance to become known in the History books. In this new documentary by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who dabbled in the fashion world with her earlier film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, we are given a more insightful look into the life and world of Peggy, Modern Art Patroness extraordinaire.
When Peggy gave what would be her last interview to biographer Jacqueline Biweld, the recorded tapes were supposed to be lost forever. Vreeland found them at Biweld’s basement, and they (in)form the structure of Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. Going from her family’s humble beginnings, her teenage years and rebellion against morals, passing through her Paris and London years, numerous affairs and family tragedies, the documentary traces a comprehensive chronological view of a character larger than life. Along the way the film touches on many subjects, including Peggy’s eye for new artists, the boldness of changing the way galleries were organized, her pride in her somewhat libidinous ways and, of course, what she found to be her biggest life achievement, her discovery and encouragement of young Jackson Pollock.
While this film will certainly be pleasant for modern art lovers, or work as a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated, one cannot help feeling a woman as bold and daring as Peggy Guggenheim deserved an equally bold and daring documentary. Not going much beyond the standard talking head/archive footage approach, with bits and bobs of contemporary films to give a sense of the time period, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict fails to engage through its form what is most valuable about it; the incredible content. The film’s division by sections feels both patronizing and redundant, and some of the interviewees feel random and underutilised. True, it is hard to do a biographical doc piece on someone that is no longer alive, but when you look at what was recently accomplished in films like Listen to Me Marlon, also based on found tapes, it feel like Vreeland either didn’t take the time or the courage to go as further as her protagonist.
Still, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict stands on its own, and though it feels like a slightly long broadcast arts documentary, it is still worth a view, least as Ms Guggenheim, in all her colourful life and work, was definitely no Peggy Sue.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict will be available on DVD and VOD in the UK from 22nd February 2016, courtesy of Dogwoof