An iconic image is opening this issue of A Guest in Venice. A woman seems to be springing aloft to reach what appear to be flower petals… It’s Peggy Guggenheim, and that flower is… “The petal arch” by Alexander Calder.
Perhaps everything was born from this… from a woman in the throes of an extraordinary passion, and from a moment in which the world finally made peace with itself once again.
It was the summer of 1948, in Venice, at the first post-war Biennale, the twenty-fourth in its history. Greece was still ablaze due to the civil war and granted its pavilion to Peggy Guggenheim and her collection.
It was a seminal watershed. Up to that moment, such a descriptive collection of “non-objective artworks” had never been seen in the old continent. All the artistic trends of that time were represented: from Cubism, to Futurism, up to Dadaism, to Surrealism and abstract Expressionism.
The Italians, Balla, Severini, de Chirico and Campigli, were flanked by the knights of abstract and surrealist art: featuring Arp, Brancusi, Calder, Ernst, Giacometti, Malevich, Pevsner and the Americans Baziotes, Pollock, Rothko and Still, practically unknown outside the United States up ‘till then, and who were to dominate the art scene of the coming years from that moment.
Modern art, at least what we can define as such from the first post-war period, maybe began from here…
And Peggy Guggenheim’s history in Venice also begins from here, as, following that extraordinary success – erstwhile President, Luigi Einaudi, also showed up to pay a tribute at “Mrs. Guggenheim‘s” Pavilion – she decided to settle in Venice in the palace on the Grand Canal, Ca’ Venier dei Leoni, which became a home and, naturally, the location for her collection.
Exactly seventy years have passed since that exhibition which left an indelible mark in history of art.
Peggy departed from this worldly life in 1979, aged 81, and thanks to the caring and passionate management of Philip Rylands, the historical curator and then director of the collection, her abode has become the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, considered one of the major modern art museums nowadays in Italy and worldwide.
Today, that event is being recalled by a small but valuable exhibition that has reconstructed the 1948 venues and their layout by famous Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, through photographs, documents and a highly detailed maquette. Not only, for the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the exhibition, a corpus of eleven artworks by Jackson Pollock now belonging to the collection – five of them displayed at that historical showcase – may be viewed within the musem for the first time in the past twenty years.
Peggy Guggenheim’s great history in Venice, beginning from those flower petals, is therefore still continuing today, sublimated by a large and functional museum, by important exhibitions hosted inside its venues – currently, the one on German painter Josef Albers – and… by a new director, once more exercising great passion, a person who closely recalls the American patron, her niece, Karole Vail.
A continuity which cannot but bring further extraordinary opportunities for knowledge to Venice, yet again, in line with Peggy Guggenheim’s thought.
If mentioning Peggy Guggenheim was due, a reminder is equally important regarding a few rendez-vous that may offer equally interesting opportunities to Guests during this month of July.
In this case too, they are represented by great institutions. We shall only mention two. The Biennale, which is continuing its spectacular showcase circuit presented by the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, by adding its billboard for the 46th International Theatre Festival in the second part of the month (see page 24, 25); La Fenice Theatre, which is featuring Richard III and two concerts by maestro Henrik Nánási, programmed for the first days of the month, in addition to its much-anticipated rendez-vous with ballet: the three evenings with famous Russian dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov and the two further ones with the International Ballet Gala featuring the participation of some of the top names in the contemporary ballet panorama.
While pop music will feature an apex, with a special concert in Saint Mark’s Square (two evenings) by one of the top protagonists of international rock-blues, Italian Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari.
We are ending with traditions, by recalling one of the most spectacular events of the year (on Saturday 14): the Redentore or Redeemer, a great nocturnal fête on water, with its fireworks finale, set in the scenario of Saint Mark’s basin.
Cover: Peggy Guggenheim next to Alexander Calder, Arc of Petals (1941), Greek Pavilion, 24th Venice Biennale, 1948.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche.