It was as true in earlier times as it is today: In capitalist societies, depending on one’s social standing, there are different standards and expectations for mental health. For people without money and the power it brings, they call the inability or refusal to follow social rules and norms, ‘neurosis’. For the well-monied, it is called ‘eccentric’. The same label and perceptual disparity holds for sex: For men who engage in hyper-sexual activities or serial sexual relationships it is called ‘being a typical man’, for women it is called ‘a sexual addiction’ (or worse). The documentary “Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict” examines both of these dimensions in the life of art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Some critics have argued that the film reveals how narcissistic grandiosity can (at least among the well-heeled) sometimes camouflage itself as a ‘spiritual quest’.
Guggeheim, who in the late 1930s shelled out $40 grand (a lot of money at that time) to acquire the works of several artists who were desperate for money in order to escape Nazi capture. Having successfully smuggled the works out of Germany, within just a couple years she goes on to open a gallery in New York City featuring their works. With this move she cements her reputation as an art impresario and visionary, though the documentary unpacks both of these labels, revealing them as more likely myth than reality.
Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival and has enjoyed strong reviews for the past four years. The pacing is a bit on the slow side (enough to offer plenty of opportunities to get up and refresh the snack tray) and there are a number of redundancies as the filmmaker attempts to present multiple examples and justifications for the angles presented, but it is a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in the world of art, art history and art collectors, or how social realities and art can develop a symbiotic relationship, ultimately distorting our perceptions of both.
Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict is available on both streaming and DVD services of Netflix.