Between Classicism and Surrealism: The Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice and the Canonization of the Avant-Garde
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Modern Art in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal is one of the finest collections of the art of the twentieth century in Europe and was the museum that launched the notion of the Guggenheim abroad (New York, Spain, Italy, Germany), It was Peggy Guggenheim's third and final attempt at creating a Museum or gallery (The Guggenheim Jeune, London, 1938-39, Art of this Century Gallery, New York, 1942-1947). She returned to Europe in 1948 and settled in Venice, the city she loved best, with her formidable collection and set up her museum home, where she lived till her death in 1979. She initially housed and displayed her collection at the vacant Greek Pavillion of the Venice Bienalle in 1948 till she settled in the Palazzo Venier. It was a surreal gesture, a "merging of contrary realities," as the surrealists might say, and a juxtaposition of past and present. In stark contrast to the classical art of the rest of Venice, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection forced the spectator to compare Ernst to Capaccio, DeChirico to Giorgione, and Pollack to Tiepolo. This paper examines both the unique dislocation the collection's neoclassical and renaissance setting creates, as well as the parodoxical canonization that simultaneously takes place through the museum context, so that today, for instance we can speak paradoxically of a "classic" surrealism to describe those works that form a canon of the movement.
Keywords: Twentieth Century Art, Surrealism, Avant-Garde Movements, Peggy Guggenheim, Classicism, Modern Art Museums, Abstract Expressionism
Prof. Barbara Lekatsas
Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Department of Comparative Literature and Languages, Hofstra University