Today we continue our trip to Venice, specifically to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. As I mentioned, we’ve actually been to Venice twice before (before we moved to Italy), but for some reason this museum managed to escape my attention. Just when I was pretty sure I’d have to wait for a trip to France to see any art produced post-1600, I discovered this oasis of modern art!
Now, if you’re like me, you may have a vague sense of the name “Guggenheim” and be thinking “isn’t there a Guggenheim museum in…..?” If you’re more art-savvy, you already know that there are in fact Guggenheim museums in New York, Berlin, and Bilbao, Spain. You may even know that there have been other Guggenheims that have closed (e.g., Las Vegas), and yet others in construction (Abu Dhabi). As usual, because you can Google this yourself, here’s the short version: The Guggenheims were an über-rich family (made their money in mining and smelting) of Swiss/Jewish ancestry. With lots of that money they became serious patrons of the arts. Solomon Guggenheim started the foundation that now runs all of the museums…. which brings us to Peggy Guggenheim and her collection in Venice.
Solomon was actually Peggy’s uncle (interesting fact, Peggy’s father Benjamin went down with the Titanic). Peggy was an eccentric socialite and art collector who decided to settle down in Venice in 1949, after her divorce from surrealist painter Max Ernst. She lived out her days there (until 1979) with her art and many dogs (who are buried next to her [see grave picture below]). That home is now a museum (run by the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation), filled with all of the (modern) art Peggy collected. It’s pretty mind-blowing that this “museum” and its contents were just one person’s house and stuff! As you’ll see in the pics, there are Picassos (larger of the two pictured), a Chagall, a Dalí (I love Dalí), a Kadinsky, and many others not pictured (Pollocks, Mirós, Ernsts, a Warhol, and more). In addition, there’s a very cool garden with some strange sculptures (a G-rated one [I think] is pictured) as well as the actual burial place of Peggy and the aforementioned dogs. (There’s also a “wish tree” donated by Yoko Ono in 2003.)
Aside from the art and the garden, the other surreal part of the experience was that you really have no idea you are in Venice, Italy. When we approached the ticket counter, all 3 ticket-takers were speaking English to each other (in English accents), and much to our surprise, all of the arts’ explanations were written first in English, then in Italian. The museum’s docents had buttons reading “Ask Me About the Art” (in English). It felt like we stepped through some secret portal to another (English- speaking) country. Weird. In any case, we had a great time in this little secret oasis of modernism in an otherwise ancient city. Thanks for coming along!