Today we paid homage to the legendary Peggy Guggenheim, enjoying her impressive collection of modern art housed at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni right on the Canal Grande, which was her home for thirty years until her death in 1979. Upon entering you first come across the Nasher Sculpture Garden, which hosts not only Ms G’s and her many beloved dogs’ graves, and an olive tree donated by Yoko Ono but also several large pieces from the current exhibition by Germaine Richier. Inside, the permanent collection displays works by Picasso, Ernst, Miró, Giacometti, Kandinski, Rothko and Pollock, to name a few. And if you exit at the canal side you come face to face with a provocative sculpture by Marini, which will either entice you or make you blush. After this particular encounter, coupled with the sensory overload from the dazzling range of epochs inside, we were both in need of a break.
We gratefully sat down in the museum café which, despite offering us a waiter with the attention span of a gnat, allowed us to calm our minds and, with the help of a roasted vegetable and cheese sandwich accompanied by a glass or two of wine, prepared us for a delightful private wander through the temporary exhibition. To find yourself in the third most visited museum in one of Europe’s most visited cities and have an entire exhibition to yourself is wonderful beyond words; it reminds me of a solitary hike many years ago through the Walbran Valley in British Columbia. With no distractions your senses are allowed to come alive in a way they very rarely do.
Having spent most of the afternoon wandering through Peggy G’s palazzo I realise she must have been a phenomenal woman. And despite stories of her outrageous behaviour and rumours that she was more interested in the artists themselves than in their art, I immediately warmed to her, and in her devil-may-care attitude and many imperfections, I found myself a new heroine.
So infused with a little of her spirit we took the vaparetto across to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. With its magnificent church and impressive belfry (higher than the one at San Marco) it forms part of a Benedictine monastery that sits directly opposite the piazetta di San Marco. With Peggy in mind I bravely conquered my double fear of lifts and heights and rode to the top of the campanile (belfry). The view was awesome, and with its high solid walls I felt protected and free to really take in the panorama across Venice and the lagoon, with the myriad of boats crossing the Canale della Giudecca.