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

By Barbara Lekatsas.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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.In this paper, I would like to explore the paradox of the anti-museum, anti-art rhetoric versus the reality of canonization. Like those dizzying and idiosyncratic shops in the underground arcades of Paris that lead “a toutes des grands boulevards”, the avant-garde not only spilled into the mainstream but became the mainstream or standard for art in the twentieth century and continues its reign in our time. The Peggy Guggenheim museum, positioned as it is between the great art and monuments of the Renaissance and the contemporary exhibitions of the Biennale, provides an opportunity to examine the issue of posterity in art and monumentality, as these relate to overthrowing or continuing past tradition.

Keywords: Twentieth Century Art, Surrealism, Avant-garde Movements, Peggy Guggenheim, Classicism, Modern Art Museums, Abstract Expressionism

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.229-242. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.638MB).

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.


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