An insider's look at Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice

Behind the Scenes at AGWA

Aston homeward bound

Our Venice intern Aston is returning to Perth after an exciting stint overseas. She shared with us some of her experiences within the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.


As a Peggy Guggenheim Collection intern, one of the major requirements I’ve found is knowing your stuff and being able to articulate it – in any number of languages. After months of researching, studying, cramming and managing that stomach flip that inevitably comes at the thought of public speaking, we avid pupils of the PGC have been delivering talks, guides and tours to globetrotting visitors. We love to share the history of the works, the collection and the many stories intricately embedded within it.


It’s important to understand that the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was born not through any sort of financial motivation, but rather as a result of the unique and enduring way in which Peggy Guggenheim herself encouraged and supported the art movements and artists of her time. It was this initiative which served to build the foundations for her incredibly significant collection of modern art.


FYI (Yes, People Really Do Ask Me These Questions):


Q: What is the most popular piece in the collection?

A: Rene Magritte’s Empire of Light is the visitor’s pick every time.


Q: What’s so good about these paintings?

A: Well, to sum it up, Abstraction revolutionised the world of art. It was the first time since the Renaissance that artists didn’t use form, colour and line to create the illusion of perspective in order to represent the physical environment. It also marked the first time artists were able to create art purely for the purpose of self-expression, rather than being confined to commissions by the Church or private patrons. This made it possible for artists to convey aspects of contemporary society and reflect the social and intellectual preoccupations in all areas of Western culture during that time. The purpose of Abstract art is not to represent things as they appear in reality. It is a visual language that artists have developed so that they could express ideas, emotions and responses to the world around them. Abstract art is important!


Q: Wow, her style is diverse. Did she really paint all these?

A: Please tell me you just joined the group.


Q: Did she really call one of her dogs Cappuccino?

A: Yes, she really did.


Q: Oh, cappuccino. Where’s the cafe?

A: Sigh.





Bon voyage, Peggy!

All good things must come to an end, and so today we bid farewell to Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice.

It has been a very exciting time working behind the scenes at the Art Gallery and sharing some insight with you. It was a sad day today as I helped pack up the gift shop and realised that I will actually have to jump on a plane to see Peggy’s collection again (though Venice does sound like a gorgeous city).

I’d like to thank everyone who let me interview and photograph them, as well as you, the readers. The Art Gallery thrives on your support, and we hope that we’ll see you again this September when the second exhibition in the Great Collections of the World Series comes together: Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the V&A.

In the meantime, be sure to catch Year 12 Perspectives 2010, and cast your vote in the People’s Choice Award.


— Tegan the Intern

Lego a hit with all ages

It was Lego madness this week as young sculpturists took to the Gallery terrace. The activities attracted record numbers, and we suspect that the parents had just as much fun as their children, if not more. Thank you to all who attended, putting their imaginations to the test and creating clever masterpieces.


January isn’t over just yet. Remember, the exhibition and cafe will remain open until 9pm tonight and again next Friday, so book a sitter, grab your friends and enjoy a night out at the Gallery. We’re also open this Tuesday, and we have a treat for you as Professor Richard Read from UWA presents the last talk in the Masterclass series. The topic of the talk is Mondrian, Nature and Abstraction. To book yourself a seat, call (08) 6488 2433 or email

Peggy won’t be around much longer, so beat the heat and come down to the Gallery.

— Tegan the Intern

Nan and Pop and Peggy

January at the Art Gallery is all about children. Today, the Gallery was filled with budding artists and their grandparents, with art activities in the concourse and free entry into Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice for children until 1pm. Youngsters were checking out the exhibition, wearing headphones and wide-eyed expressions. The upstairs children’s area Wonderland had puzzles, books and a special magnetic board for creating masterpieces.


I had a chat with Kath Barlow and Helen Baker, who said that the exhibition was very interesting, and that the guided tour was immensely helpful. I also overhead a little boy asking his grandparents “Are these real paintings or are they copies?”, and an English gentlemen saying “Glad we didn’t have to go all the way to Venice.”

“It’s a very clever idea dealing with one collection. An exhibition that tells a story is rewarding in its own right and almost transcends the art. There were some really outstanding works. Tancredi was new to me and I really liked his work. The big blow up photos of the New York exhibition spaces were excellent, as were the reconstructed Kiesler chairs that you could sit on. I bought the catalogue ahead of time which really helped give the works some context.”

– Paul Green-Armytage, Shenton Park (pictured with his wife and four-year-old granddaughter ‘Jazzy’).

Next week, the terrace will come alive with inspired sculptures made out of everybody’s favourite tool: Lego. Follow the link for more information and check out these beauties for some inspiration.

Don’t forget, the exhibition, cafe and both gift shops are open till 9pm on Fridays in January, and you can check out the exhibition on the last two Tuesdays of the month (we are usually closed Tuesdays). Expand your knowledge with our second series of Masterclass Lectures – with one already sold out, it’s time to make those bookings!

Hope your Summer is filled with family fun!

— Tegan the Intern

Tony Fowler, your friendly tour guide

How did you reach the position of tour guide for this exhibition?

With great difficulty, as I was away overseas when the exhibition opened, thereby missing out on putting my name down for the ‘Ask me’ sessions. The gallery initially decided not to have guided public tours of the exhibition, given the anticipated problems of navigating large groups around a confined space. Having ‘Ask Me’ guides avoided this. Fortunately, these later ‘AM’s were converted to tours, so I was able to indulge.  Having been a guide for 15 years, it’s nice to be able to say it still gives the old bloke a buzz when we get these exhibitions and one has a ‘captive audience’ to attempt to enthuse and entertain for an hour. It’s a great life, the rewards are huge but the pay is lousy!

How has the experience been so far?

The experience of guiding the exhibition has been great. AGWA guides attempt to involve their tour members – inviting comment and asking questions. This can produce interesting comments and fresh information. Many visitors have seen the collection in Venice. One couple commented that ‘our’ works contained several they did not see in Venice. In front of the Jackson Pollock work ‘Direction’ an American visitor said she immediately recognised the white stick figure (described in the catalogue as ‘…resembling one of a pair of firedogs’) as a mythical figure in American Indian art, the flute player or the piper.

Any blunders?

There will be times when one refers to the artist by his or her incorrect name, the face temporarily flushes and the correction is hurriedly made!  There have been a few less-than-approving looks from elderly ladies, on my explaining Duchamp’s love of word play and citing the L.H.O.O.Q. on his Mona Lisa with a moustache. It was the translation from the phonetic French that caused the raised eyebrows and haughty sniff.

What do the artworks mean to you? Any favourites?

Difficult question. Like most of the guides, I suppose, it is the chance to see the ACTUAL works, rather than reproductions, that is important. Until one stands in front of a painting and lets it speak (or scream or remain silent) one has not done justice either to the work or to oneself. I often paraphrase Bernard Berenson’s comment that, although it may be interesting to know the who, when, why and how of a painting, these things are insignificant in comparison to the spirit of the actual work. Favourites? ‘Maiastra’ by Brancusi and ‘Composition’ by Tancredi – this one really draws me into the picture plane (and many of the tours too).

Why should the people of Perth come to see the exhibition?

Because it is a chance to have a stimulating visual experience. We are the only city in the country to have these works on show. For those interested in the history of art, it is a personal catalogue of what was going on in the art world in the first half of the 20th century, a tribute to the enthusiasm and foresight of a remarkable lady and a great example of how artistic trends/styles/fashions may be disseminated through the actions of one individual. For those not particularly interested in the art history of who invented what technique, who influenced who etc, just go and experience the works – works you may never get to see in their palazzo in Venice.

Spicing up the silly season

Exams are over, school’s almost out for Summer and work commitments are winding down for the silly season. I hope you’re all enjoying the festivities and looking forward to Christmas as much as I am!

If you’re entertaining family and friends, searching for the perfect gift or looking for a way to spend a lazy Summer afternoon, come upstairs to the Guggenheim exhibition. The guided tours on Wednesdays and Sundays are a must-see, and the shop is full of beautiful product sourced directly from Venice (I’ve got my eye on some Murano glass…I hope Santa knows!)

Next Monday (20th December), listeners of radio station 720 ABC Perth can see the exhibition at a discounted price of $12! Listen to the station for details on how you can participate.

Due to the January rush, we’re going to be opening our doors a little later for you. Friday nights in January, the Guggenheim exhibition, upstairs shop and Caffisimo will stay open until 9pm, with the main gallery closing at 6pm. Then, for the last two Tuesdays of the exhibition (January 18th and 25th) we’ll give you exclusive access to the exhibition (the rest of the gallery will remain closed).

For information on any of the January events, including the second series of our Masterclass Lectures, the Grandparent’s Day and an exciting week of Lego Art, click here.

The exhibition finishes on the 31st of January – write it down! Don’t miss out on this world-class opportunity.

Baby, it’s hot outside

I write to you from the air conditioned comfort of the Guggenheim shop, as guided tours and school groups take their time in the exhibition space. Half an hour into the day and I’ve already heard people saying this is their second or third visit, which we love to hear. I just met a couple who flew over from Sydney especially for the exhibition, and they said it was worth every penny. You can purchase a multi-entry pass (for unlimited entry) for $55. If you’ve been through the exhibition with a standard ticket and you want to visit again, pop over to the ticketing desk and pay the difference to upgrade to a multi-entry pass (this can only be claimed on the day of your visit).

Be sure to take a wander through our lovely shop for Christmas gifts, souvenirs and a little something for yourself. We have authentic venetian masks, an extensive range of art books, a full colour catalogue (now only $29.95), postcards, comfy limited edition Guggenheim shirts, quirky Felicity Peters jewellery, designer sunglasses, Kiesler furniture and a whole lot more.

We’re estimating crowds and queues in January, so get in quick to avoid the last-minute rush (and enjoy the aircon).

— Tegan the Intern