Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Peggy Guggenheim - in print

Since I have spent over 10 years of my life reading about Peggy Guggenheim (oh yeah - and writing my PhD on her), I have something of an interest in the material written about her. This year has seen yet another biography added to the archive of work on this 20th century art collector, this time by Mary Dearborn.

Dearborn's book Mistress of Modernism is, as all the works on Guggenheim are, a valuable contribution to the scholarship on this complex figure. However, despite a feminist slant this time around, the text remains problematic and emblematic of the difficulties faced by those wanting to write about her. Tied to the "telling of the life" format of conventional biographies - narrative, chronological progression - the book is inevitably limited in what it can contribute to our understanding of Guggenheim. I would heartily recommend reading it - Guggenheim is always fascinating and never dull - but the phrase "a pinch of salt" seems a reasonable coda of warning.

Guggenheim's character does not easily suit these kinds of narrative and the detail of her life and experiences pretty much always undermines the readings such texts are compelled to provide. For a taster of the difficulties, I would recommend readers start with Guggenheim's own words: her autobiography Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict which neatly demonstrates her contradictions.