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How Peggy Guggenheim Turned the 1948 Venice Biennial into a Landmark Event of Art History

  • Peggy Guggenheim Alexander Calder Venice Biennale 1948
May 24, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The way collectors have shaped the art history often reveals a lot about the circumstances of the art production of a certain period. Those figures obviously possessed immense economic power and apparent willingness to help the artists achieve their goals.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the situation changed and the thin line between patronage and collecting became blurred. It could be said that the majority of the collections made in the post-war period were an effect of varying political, social and cultural processes.

A perfect example is no other than Peggy Guggenheim. The upcoming exhibition of a simple title 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim attempts to reveal the impact of this important figure, and her efforts to promote, valorize and popularize modern art on an international scale just a few years after the end of World War II.

Left Peggy Guggenheim with Arch of petals by Alexander Calder at the Venice Biennale, 1948 Right Peggy Guggenheim during the preparation of the Greek pavilion, where she exhibited her collection, at the XIV Biennial of Venice
Left: Peggy Guggenheim with Arch of petals by Alexander Calder at the Venice Biennale, Venice, 1948. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photo Archives CameraphotoEpoche, Venice Savings Bank donation, 2005. / Right: Peggy Guggenheim during the preparation of the Greek pavilion, where she exhibited her collection, at the XIV Biennial of Venice, with Interior Dutch II by Joan Miró, (left, 1928, Peggy Guggenheim Collection) Woman sitting II (center, 1939, Collection Peggy Guggenheim); 1948. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photo Archives CameraphotoEpoche, Venice Savings Bank donation, 2005.

The Importance of The Context

In 1938, Peggy Guggenheim had opened an art gallery in London focusing specifically on modern art, but just a year later she coined the idea for the opening of a museum along with her friend and the notable art critic Herbert Read. She spent some time in Paris in order to negotiate the loans from the European artists, but when the WW II started, Guggenheim fled to America and in 1942, she opened a new exhibition space Art of This Century.

Nevertheless, in 1947 she returned to Europe and presented the works from the collection in 1948, at the first edition of the Venice Biennale after the war.

Peggy Guggenheim at Greek pavilion Venice Biennale
Peggy Guggenheim on the steps of the Greek pavilion at the 24th Venice Biennale of Art, where she exhibited her collection, with Interno (1945, unknown location) of her daughter Pegeen Vail; 1948. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photos Archives CameraphotoEpoche, Venice Savings Bank donation, 2005

About The Installment

The curatorial intervention of Gražina Subelytė is practically a reenactment of the Greek pavilion where the collection was presented ad it consists of a multitude of photographs, letters, documents, and a three-dimensional model of the pavilion installation.

As a matter of fact, it tends to demystify Guggenheim’s intention by accentuating the critical reception of the collection and revise the historical significance of the event.

One hundred and thirty-six works, which were initially shown, will be presented again, along with a few works which are not part of the collection. Interestingly so, Peggy Guggenheim’s collection was presented in the official Biennale catalog, but despite that the collector had decided to publish a small, separate catalog which was used as a merchandise.

Left Peggy Guggenheim at the inauguration of the exhibition at the Greek pavilion, 1948 Right Peggy with Arturo Tosi in the Greek Pavilion of the Venice Biennale of Art in 1948
Left: Peggy Guggenheim at the inauguration of the exhibition of her collection at the Greek pavilion, at the XXIV Biennale di Venezia, while welcoming the President Luigi Einaudi; 1948 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photo Archives CameraphotoEpoche, Venice Savings Bank donation, 2005 / Right: Peggy Guggenheim with Arturo Tosi in the Greek Pavilion of the Venice Biennale of Art in 1948. The two works by Joan Mirò, Interior of the Netherlands II (1928, Peggy Guggenheim Collection) and Donna Seated II (1939, PGC) and the statue of Constantine Brancusi Maiastra are to be seen (1912, Peggy Guggenheim Collection). © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photo Archives CameraphotoEpoche, Venice Savings Bank donation, 2005.

The Venice Biennale of 1948 at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Peggy Guggenheim’s affiliation with the artists, intellectuals and writers, as well as her marriage to German painter and one of the iconic figures of Modernism, Max Ernst, show how passionate she was about the arts and how precious that communication was for her.

Therefore, this historical survey on the Guggenheim Collection in the Greek Pavilion marks the 70th anniversary of the same, since that event is crucial for a better understanding of the development of 20th-century art.

The exhibition at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection‘s Project Rooms in Venice will be on display from 25 May until 25 November, 2018.

Featured image: Peggy Guggenheim with Arch of petals by Alexander Calder at the Venice Biennale, Venice, 1948 (detail). © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photo Archives CameraphotoEpoche, Venice Savings Bank donation, 2005. All images courtesy Guggenheim Venice.