Between Classicism and Surrealism: The Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice and the Canonization of the Avant-Garde

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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
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Between Classicism and Surrealism


Prof. Barbara Lekatsas

Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Department of Comparative Literature and Languages, Hofstra University
Hempstead, New York, USA

My specialization in modern art and literature movements began in graduate school(PhD, NYU 1985,Comparative Literature), although I focus, as well, on how modernism and classicism interact and share values. At Hofstra, I was curator for over a decade of the unique Weingrow Collection of Avant-Garde Art and Literature (see my bibliography by same name, published by Greenwood Press, 1985) and have also worked with the Hatch-Billops Collection of Afro-American Art. I have just curated the exhibition at the Arthur Rose Museum, Claflin University, South Carolina: " Will Barnet and Bob Blackburn: An Artistic Friendship in Relief, (April 1-April 19, 2009). Some recent publications: Poems in "Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry"(Somerset Hall Press, 2008), "Andre Breton's Ambivalent Relationship with the Greeks," Odyssey Magazine (No. 81, Jan/Feb. 2007), "Late Twentieth Century African-American Works on Paper from the Cochran Collection: From Realism to Abstraction," essay for exhibition, "History of Absence," Chattahoochie Valley Art Museum, LaGrange, Georgia(2004), "Ancient Greece and Modern Feminism," in Critical Essays on Contemporary European Culture and Society(Lang, 2003), "Andre Breton" Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2002). See also in Common Ground's Journal of Diversity, my essay on Lafcadio Hearn, "New Orleans Picaresque," presented a year after Hurricane Katrina hit at the Diversity Conference in New Orleans.

Ref: A09P0758