Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary is a straightforward work about a considerably more offbeat woman. Peggy Guggenheim was born into the wealthy New York banking family (her father went down on the Titantic when she was 13), but the rebellious young woman was a square peg amidst Manhattan’s glittery society. She decamped to Paris in the 1920s, taking quickly to the city’s bohemian scene, particularly its lively pack of modern visual artists. Over the next few decades, Guggenheim would befriend, discover, promote, subsidize and collect works from dozens of the 20th century’s most prominent artists (Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock). Unthinkable for a woman of her time and class, she enjoyed numerous romantic affairs, and opened and operated a series of influential art galleries.
The high point of Vreeland’s film is hearing the elderly Guggenheim recount these adventures herself, in long-ago audio tapes recently rediscovered. Vreeland has various contemporary art-world types weigh in on Guggenheim’s substantial influence (some older men still sound a bit dismissive because she was a rich, self-educated woman), and there’s even a surprise appearance by a major Hollywood star. Ultimately, despite her personal and professional troubles, Guggenheim had the last laugh: Her collection of modern art is stunning, now near-priceless, and housed in one of the world’s most visited museums, in Venice. A must for fans of art and of iconoclastic women.