National Pavilion UAE - Peggy Guggenheim Collection/ By Ameena Khalfan
  • Peggy Guggenheim Collection/ By Ameena Khalfan

    The celebration of art and architecture in Venice is exceptional because it does not only embrace each detail within the space; it also combines the perfect atmosphere and the feeling of appreciation for art and architecture. Creating such a flourished artistic atmosphere requires efforts of groups and individuals who play significant role, both historically and artistically. Great effort comes from great love and passion towards the love of what we do.  In the same way, those like the lady Peggy Guggenheim who love art and architecture, can impact us deeply. Known for her revolutionary parties and outrageous behavior, the wealthy libertine became one of the most outstanding personalities of modern art as she liberated many minds and souls about modern art.

    After the tragic death of her father, a large part of her Peggy’s fortune went towards satisfying her passion for collecting contemporary art. She eventually settled in Venice in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where she created a “museum- home” for her collection. The 18th century palace, Venier dei Leoni, on Venice’s Grand Canal became her home in 1947.

     Peggy Guggenheim on her Venice terracePeggy Guggenheim on her Venice terrace, 1950’s. Photo via: tumblr

    There are several works displayed inside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni by Pablo Picasso, including the cubist, and The Poet. Other art colelctions in the palazzo include Marcel Duchamp’s Sad Young Man in a Train,  Juan Gris’s Bottle of Rum,   Max Ernst ‘s The Attirement of the Bride, and many more masterpieces of the first half of the 20th century.  The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is a modest building by Venetian standards. The design, shows a mélange of “neopalladianism” and baroque forms of engravings which was done by Giorgio Fossati. To get to the Guggenheim, you can take a vaporetto, which takes you along the length of the Grand Canal. Like most destinations in Venice, there is no access from the pontoon in front of the building where you alight. You have to find your way around to the entrance at the back, down the alley, which seems to be designed to mislead the viewer into seeing more of Venice. But the Guggenheim is not difficult to find, and as I arrived at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the sun had brighten the great architecture into the most beautiful form. The overall structure of the palace consists of an entrance from the Canal Grande, a hall of four columns near the land portal with two staircases, and an oval courtyard, which gives it a simple structure to a multilayered function in the different collections. From the outside, it has a long low façade, made of a stone called Istrian, which is set off against the trees in the garden. What was more interesting to know about the history was the secret behind the naming “Palazzo Venier dei Leoni” which some suggested was derived from Lions that the Venier supposedly had held in the garden. It is also known as the “Maifinio”, which means “never finished” in the Venetian dialect. The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, was intended to be a three level building. Only a small portion of the first floor was completed. The reason why the building was never finished remains a mystery. Some suggested that there was battle between two prominent Venetian families, the Veniers and the Corners, adding to the economic issues led to the incompleteness. In 1947, Peggy Guggenheim acquired the palace fragmentation.

    Pic by Ameena

     The Guggenheim collection comprises the sculpture garden in the back, the interior rooms and hallways of the palazzo, and the terrace sculpture garden beside the Grand Canal.  Among the recognizable and often reproduced pieces from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection are Brancusi’s two sleek avian sculptures, Maiastra and Bird in Space and Jean Arp’s Overturned Blue Shoe (1925).

    After being overwhelmed by the masterpieces, I was pulled into another fascinating collection, which is the library. In the Library, as I walked through the tiled terrazzo and patterned rug, I immediately recognized a familiar Picasso self-portrait, specifically a half-Length Portrait of a Man (1939), that is hanged in a corridor beside works by Braque. The flow of the artistic surroundings does not stop there, as the visitor continues to the former guest-room with Pollock’s half a dozen artworks. The artistic representation changes within one architecture, yet it perfectly fits the whole structure because it simply does not disturb the atmosphere. The next collection was the Large Room with a magnificent surrealist theme. The room is basically dominated by Ernst’s two artworks: the red-feathered Attirement of the Bride, and The Antipope, with its predatory, horse-headed representation of Peggy. In the same room are also some lovely Magrittes and Dali’s Birth of Liquid Desires (1931-1932). The collection sets a visual timeline within different approaches of art. The most interesting artworks  are showcased within a small room that displayed paintings by Peggy’s daughter, Pegeen, and a collection of miniature blue-glass sculptures by Costantini (1964) after sketches by Picasso.

    As a person walks around the architecture, he or she come to the conclusion that the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is one of the most important repositories of historical art in Italy; this imposing edifice holds paintings and altarpieces by the great artists through the centuries as it is a modern gem. It also made me think of houses as the most impressive sub-set of any artistic collection because it takes the visitor into an intimate experience within a large collection of modern art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is substantial in art terms, but not so intense in number and scale that the viewer is confused.  Like other visitors, I leave the interior rooms and take time out to digest what we had seen before. Peggy Guggenheim was able to amass her formidable collection of cubist, futurist, surrealist, metaphysical and European and American abstract expressionist works.

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