The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is arguably one of the greatest collections of modern art in Europe. The collection holds the likes of Picasso, Duchamp, Dali and many more notable artists who are often referred to as the pioneers of key movements in modern art. The collection is housed in the Palazzo dei Leoni, the palace that Peggy Guggenheim moved into in 1948, and remained for the rest of her life. Having the collection in the house of Peggy adds an extra level of importance to the experience, as visitors can catch a real glimpse into Peggy’s life. As well as Peggy’s collection, the museum also holds the Schulhof Collection, which includes contemporary works by artists such as Warhol, Judd, Riley and many more. This collection has a smaller wing on the side of the Palazzo.
Being able to work alongside these amazing artworks as part of my four-week internship in Venice was an opportunity I could never have passed up. This is an experience that is offered to all second-year students studying History of Art and Museum Studies here at LJMU. However, students from other courses can also apply at any level too. The internship included working day-to-day with very important works of art, giving talks to the public and the occasional behind the scenes work with permanent staff of the Guggenheim. Arguably the most satisfying element of my internship was the chance to converse with the public, whether it was telling them about Peggy’s life or information about a piece of work – such as showing them where ‘For Peggy’ has been inscribed on the Calder headboard.
Part of my internship also focused specifically on the life of Peggy Guggenheim, whether this be her traumatic childhood, her collecting of important artworks or the different methods Peggy chose to display her artwork through. My fellow interns and I were then required to deliver our insights to groups of around 20 visitors about once a week.
These talks generated a lot of interest from visitors, as the life of the art collector is often overlooked. Peggy collected the majority of her collection throughout the Second World War, spending about $40,000 during those years with the aim of collecting one artwork per day, with artistic advice from Duchamp. As well as these talks on Peggy’s life, we gave talks on the artwork too. I chose to focus my own talk on Mondrian’s ‘Composition No.1 with Grey and Red’.
This work was particularly interesting to me as it highlights Mondrian’s signature perpendicular work, whilst also having the quirk of a circular mark made from an American customs stamp – made when Peggy was unable to pay her shipping charges from France to America after fleeing the Nazis. To me, this displays the life of the painting. Mondrian aimed for this work to display meditative and spiritual elements, created through the harmony of the perpendicular lines. These were quite unusual concepts at the time (1938-39).
In the last days of my internship, a new exhibition was opened titled ‘The Last Dogressa’. This exhibition showed the full scope of Peggy’s collection which saw artworks from numerous European countries and America. In particular, this exhibition focused on the relationship between Peggy and Jackson Pollock. Peggy paid Pollock a monthly wage to allow Pollock to leave his job as a janitor and pursue his artistic career. In total, Peggy’s collection has 18 Pollock’s, not all on show. This exhibition, through the work of Pollock and Rothko, displayed how Peggy was able to become a celebrity of sorts through the display of her collection at the 1947 Venice Biennale.
This experience was amazing, not only because I was able to work alongside amazing art every day, but also because I was able to work alongside like-minded people from all over the world who were as passionate as I am about art. Being one of 30 interns allowed me to see how different countries react to art, as well as how different institutions approach the controversies of contemporary art.
The chance to work in a different country was truly wonderful – not to mention the excellent cuisine in Venice! It’s also in a great location that allows you to travel to most Northern Italian cities with ease. Overall, I would highly recommend this internship experience to anyone considering it. My time at the Guggenheim was truly unforgettable!
If like Melanie you're passionate about art, take a closer look a our History of Art and Museum Studies here at LJMU.