Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern
By Francine Prose
Yale University Press, 240 pages, $25
I feel compelled to begin my review of the novelist Francine Prose’s biography of art dealer and collector Peggy Guggenheim with a lengthy quote from another writer, in this case the Russian playwright Vladimir Sorokin, who wrote about Guggenheim with an intensity of feeling, empathy and perception that is missing from Prose’s new work. He wrote:
“Peggy Guggenheim was a seeker of adventures, a lioness in the private fashionable world of her father, who ended up at the bottom of the Titanic; an American exile from a family of millionaires, inclined towards changes of place, partners, lovers and Bohemian circles, a woman who spent her stormy existence nourishing her fascination with the new, never before seen art. She had a nose for genius, excellent taste and the tigerish cunning of an ambitious collector of the new. It is largely down to her that the world heard about Marcel Duchamp… Peggy helped Max Ernst become himself. She personally knew the geniuses of pre-war Paris. She snapped up paintings by the European Surrealists, Dadaists, Abstractionists, Futurists and Constructivists. After the war she was able to recognize the genius of Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Robert Matta and Willem de Kooning. She assured herself of the cream of Modernism with meticulous consistency, filling her container with it. By 1951, it was full. Peggy sealed it and chose a place, in Venice, on the Grand Canal.”
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