Guggenheim Venice, Will You Marry Me?

On Thursday December 11th, I started my morning with a perfectly frothy cappuccino and a sinfully delicious almond biscuit from a tiny bakery in Venice’s famed Jewish quarter. Little did I know as I strolled toward the Guggenheim Collection after breakfast that the biscuit would not in fact be the best part of my day.

The Guggenheim Collection is housed in the legendary Peggy Guggenheim’s former Venetian Palazzo. Overlooking the Grand Canal, the house is a real stunner but its’ true beauty is what lies within, possibly the most incredible art collection I’ve ever seen.

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View from inside the gates on to the Grand Canal. Can you spot the artwork?

Upon entering the courtyard, the first piece you see is a neon installation, elegantly mounted within a wall of greenery. The work, by Mario Merz, far pre-dates Tracy Emin’s neons, but has a similar ethereal and romantic feel.

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Se la forma scompare la sua radice e eterna (1982-89)

Once inside the museum, it was as if my eyes didn’t know where to look first —Picasso, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Magritte, Twombly, the list goes on.

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L’Atelier, Pablo Picasso (1928)
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Silhouette, Man Ray (1916)
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Untitled, Cy Twombly (1967)

My first “oh my God” moment of the visit, however, was entering the Pollock room, which is, as it sounds, a room full of Jackson Pollock‘s. To paint a picture for you (no pun intended), I audibly gasped so loudly when I stepped inside that the security guard lifted his gaze off his iPhone to check on me.

The vibrant colours of the works, with those wild, boldly alive, almost violent brushstrokes, and the giant windows of the room looking out onto the calm water — there really are no words.

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Circumcision, Jackson Pollock, 1946

As if this already wasn’t enough, right outside the Pollock room is a Francis Bacon work, Study for Chimpanzee. I often find it hard to look at Bacon’s art (and I realise that is part of the point), but this painting is different. There is a sweetness about it, which is not a word I’d have ever even considered using to describe a Bacon. The chimp itself, contrary to the artist’s usual portraits, both animal and human, is not visibly distorted, and the bright pink background makes the painting seem quite light and fun as well. It was strangely mesmerizing, and one of my preferred works of the day.

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Study for Chimpanzee, Francis Bacon (1957)

Another favourite from the collection is Jasper JohnsThree Flags, inspired by his painting of the same name. The work is quite a small one and hangs discretely on a side wall, but what power it holds! The detail and layering of the pencil strokes is absolutely insane — seemingly meaningless scribbles somehow coming together to create the three distinct sets of US stars and stripes.

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Three Flags, Jasper Johns (1960)

Sadly, my photograph does not do it the least bit of justice.

In the final room of the collection, as if it were calling my name, I came across an untitled Robert Ryman work made of double-baked porcelain enamel on copper panels. Literally a series of white boxes, the piece embodies ArtAttack’s motto, ‘What Is Art?’.

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Untitled, Robert Ryman (1973)

In my view, the grandeur of the collection itself, coupled with the glamorous, yet intimate, homely setting, all in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, sets The Guggenheim Collection apart from any other modern art museum, which made me crave to learn as much as I possibly could about Peggy Guggenheim, herself. So, in exiting through the gift shop, I stopped for a copy of the art legend and patron extraordinaire’s autobiography.

I’m in the midst of reading it now and am already completely hooked, just as I am hooked on her incredible Venetian collection. Thank you, Peggy, for a day I’ll never forget!

— India Irving

The Guggenheim Collection is open daily from 10AM-6PM (Closed Tuesdays and 25 December); 704 Dorsoduro, 30123, Venice, Italy; Admission: €15.50; www.guggenheim-venice.it

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