Over the course of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s new documentary, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, the famous collector is called, or calls herself, a narcissist; an enfant terrible; a nymphomaniac, an outsider; a disturbed, liberated woman; timid; charmingly naive; a little girl; and a lone wolf.
No matter how you think of her, Peggy Guggenheim was a character. Consider her life: The niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, Peggy rejected her bourgeois German-Jewish New York family; shaved off her eyebrows to shock her high school classmates; fled to Europe; bought oodles of Surrealist, Cubist, and Abstract Expressionist art when nobody—as in the Louvre and the Guggenheim—thought it worth anything; supported Djuna Barnes and Jackson Pollock before they were famous; smuggled her art collection out of England during World War II; later bought a Venetian palazzo to display it; suffered a botched nose job that she never bothered to fix; surrounded herself with a fleet of Lhasa Apsos; became known for a style of ornate, cat-eye-meets-carnival-mask glasses that are still sold in the gift shop of her museum; slept with anyone and everyone who was intriguing to her; and, to drive the point home, published, in 1946, a tell-all memoir about her sexual exploits.
Guggenheim lived and breathed art, and behaved as creatively as the artists she adored. Yet somehow she was still plagued by a reputation that cast her as a striving dilettante, an imposter among the avant-garde, a faker of good taste, and a sort of sad, undesirable floozy. For Art Addict, Immordino Vreeland interviewed a wide array of Guggenheim intimates and art world A-listers, a few of whom casually perpetuate elements of those persistent stereotypes. But the film also offers a fascinating look at Guggenheim’s far more complex reality.