Peggy Guggenheim in photographs

There is no doubt about Živa Kraus’s tribute to Peggy Guggenheim: it is the only choice for 2016, which sees many Venetian initiatives dedicated to the Five Hundredth Anniversary of the Ghetto of Venice.

This choice, apparently, may be simple, even obvious: Živa Kraus’s Art Gallery is in Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, and the name of Peggy Guggenheim is associated to Venice, dealing with contemporary art, and in addition she was Jewish. In fact, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was the last house where Peggy moved, the project that had become a will, the place where the incredible art-patron considered to live the last years of a life in constant moving.

What makes Mrs. Kraus’s idea original? Why is “Peggy Guggenheim in Photographs“, from June 10th to November 27th, 2016, a must-see exhibition?

Many are the reasons, summarized in this definition: photographic perspective. Two words that encounter in the intimate and charming space of Ikona Gallery, because the 21 photographs selected by the curator celebrate in an essential way the path of the woman who greatly influenced the development and diffusion of Contemporary Art in the second half of the twentieth century. In this show both the avant-garde and the artists, -acquaintances, friends or lovers- so loved by Peggy are no longer the focus of the attention of the viewer (such as when you are in front of the artworks, that she purchased, stored, commissioned, which are exposed in the museum) but they become a background or a frame.

Hermann Landshoff, Peggy Guggenheim and a group of artists in exile, New York, 1942.

In the photographs, she and only she is the focus for the lens: from laying her personality emerges, as her determination and, at times, a kind of detachment from life. The images document the inexorable force which lasts through time, from 1924 to 1974, and the common thread to all photo shoots of some of the biggest names of the twentieth century photography, is simply called Peggy.

Berenice Abbott, Peggy Guggenheim, France, 1926.

Looking at the pictures of the 1940-1948 period we had the impression to understand them, we should enter into the approach of abstract expressionism that she, as a heroine, wanted to expose since 1943 in New York, and then spread to Europe. The subject of the image figures with-blend into the background, and then you can contextualize the subject reappears almost abstract in its form. The subsequent photos of 1950’ are different even if they are free from the cultural context and they show her as an icon: Peggy emerges from the image to say what she became. The portrait is thus conceived as a communication tool, enters in the media and displays a new environment: the artistic context of the second half of the twentieth century, in which Peggy influenced with her style.

We are convinced that the peculiarity of the exhibition is solely due to the experience and knowledge of Živa Kraus, owner since 1979 of IKONA VENICE International School of Photography. She, who worked for Peggy Guggenheim in 1973, she, who saw Peggy enter in her gallery when it was in Ponte San Moisè, because she wanted to see her portrait with Herbert Read exposed by Mrs. Kraus for Gisèle Freund’s retrospective; she as Peggy, who has not been able to leave Venice.

A very young Živa Kraus with Peggy Guggenheim, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 1966.

The exhibition begins with two photographs of Peggy at the age of 26 and 28 years, respectively, of Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, which enhance her origins, her class and her love for dogs, animals that will accompany all life (return even in the next pictures). But the real beginning of the homage to Mrs. Guggenheim is the click of Freund, unique color, portraying Peggy sitting on the sofa next to Herbert Read, one of the major British art critics, while they discuss the project for the opening of a museum in London; behind them the painting by Yves Tanguy that she had bought in 1938, and now part of the permanent collection of Palazzo Venier. Mr. Read’s interest for modern and contemporary art, combined with the cultural breadth of this man (who was also trustee of the Tate Gallery), is fundamental for Peggy and her artistic insights that will lead to the opening of her subsequent galleries.

Gisèle Freund, Herbert Read and Peggy Guggenheim, London, June 1939.

Followed by 11 images that mark the movement of this woman from London to Paris, to New York in her Art of This Century set designed by Frederick Kiesler, with photographs of Rogi André, Hermann Landshoff, Berenice Abbott, George Karger, André Kertész and Dino Jarach (3 photos in Venice in 1948, when Peggy was invited to exhibit her collection of European and American art at the XXIV Venice Biennale). The Ida Kar 1951 photo celebrates Peggy as a muse, on the steps of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which were acquired in 1949, her new house-museum that from 1951 was open to the public to enable it to benefit from her private collection. The last six photos (author unknown – 1950s, Roloff Beny – 1958, Nino Best – 1958, Gianni Berengo Gardin – 1958 Stefan Moses – 1974) remind us of Peggy Guggenheim in her eyes, sometimes austere, or smiling, as if to a farewell, during her usual afternoon outing in gondola, with inseparable Lhasa-Apso and Shih-Tzu.

Robert E. Mates, Peggy at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, 1969.

Živa Kraus’s brilliant sharpness leads the eye of visitors to the image of the closing to this exhibition: it is the photograph of Robert E. Mates, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s photographer. At age of 75, Peggy flew to New York along with her collection, to expose the artworks in the famous building projected by Frank Lloyd Wright; the photo steals a moment of solitude while Peggy is looking down the set of artworks, shreds of life, which will be donate in 1976 to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In this photo Peggy is a central vertical line between horizontal and parallel lines.

As it is true that one of the purposes of photography is to document reality, it is equally true that the images chosen for “Peggy Guggenheim in Photographs” testify the crucial stages of her life, the key years, her strong personality and the use she wanted to do with her wealth: to honor the Art of her time.

Ikona Gallery
Ikona Gallery, Campo del Ghetto Nuovo 2909, Venice.