Milton Esterow returns to journalism with a long recap of the now 25-year legal wrangle over the estate of Peggy Guggenheim. The latest flare-up of law suits began in 2013 and seems to have been provoked entirely by resentment over the inclusion of another family’s works among Guggenheim’s.
The growing trend toward private museums seems to be building upon a fixation with “donor intent” over the needs and value of the art and artists. Here’s how Esterow characterizes Guggenheim and her influence:
For much of the 20th century she was the enfant terrible of the art world and one of its most influential patrons. In 1949, she bought an 18th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal, in Venice, and turned it into an avant-garde salon that was said to have “more than once shocked Venice’s Renaissance soul.” Guests included Tennessee Williams, Somerset Maugham, Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, and Marlon Brando. She built one of the great collections of modern art, 326 paintings and sculptures that would become known as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, including works by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Constantin Brancusi, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Salvador Dalí, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Alberto Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky, and Marcel Duchamp. (“Her choices affected the course of twentieth-century art history,” wrote one of her biographers, Mary V. Dearborn.) Before Guggenheim died, she donated the palazzo, along with her collection, to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, started in 1937 by her uncle, who opened the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1959. (“My uncle’s garage, that Frank Lloyd Wright thing on Fifth Avenue,” she called it.) The Peggy Guggenheim Collection opened six days a week to the public in 1980 and has become the most visited museum of modern art in Italy. Its annual attendance has increased tenfold in 35 years to about 400,000.