10.02_Unit Trip_Guggenheim Museum_Venice_Visit with Sara Pedrini _assistant to the Director, Philip Rylands

Diploma 15 was welcomed at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum by Sara Pedrini, assistant to the Director, Philip Rylands. She gave us an overview of the museum history, of Peggy’s collections and of the museum management.

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Sara Pedrini introducing us the history of the museum


Peggy’s brief biography:

Peggy came to Venice at the end of the 40s for the Venice Biennale, when she felt in love with the city and decided to buy the ‘Palazzo Venier dei Leoni’. She decided to acquire the palace because of its unique features, smaller compared to the other palaces in the city. When she moved in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni she brought with her entire art collection mainly of Avant-garde, Surrealism, the Abstractism, due to her passion of the art of the first half of the 20th century.

She died in 1979 and she was buried in the garden of the museum. In her last will she declared to leave her collection to his uncle’s foundation, Solomon, and this is why the museum is part of the Solomon Guggenheim foundation.  The main foundation in NY, homes the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in NY, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (PGM) in Venice, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and one new museum planned to be opened in Abu Dhabi. Although the PGM is part of the big foundation, it was Peggy’s decision to leave her collection here in Venice and her artworks must remain in Italy.

Peggy’s grave inside Guggenheim Museum garden

History of the Museum :

Peggy died in December 1979 and in April 1989 the Peggy Guggenheim Museum was founded, it was smaller than current one and only open for few days a week. Slowly it became what it is today.

Since the very beginning the museum was, and it is still, directed by Philip Rylands. The original museum comprehended just Peggy’s residence and garden in the centre. The transformation of her house into a museum was a lengthy and difficult process.They intension was to keep the artwork she had in the same place she used to showcase them however the refurbishment of the palace has transformed the original living spaces. A small room now dedicated to Peggy’s daughter, was originally a bathroom. It was not useful to keep it in its original state and was transformed into an exhibition room. The transformation was intrusive on the living spaces also because she used the basement as showroom of her collection but the basement wasn’t appropriate for a museum climate conditions requirements due to its humidity. However, inside the permanent gallery there are photos of show how the house looked like when Peggy live there.

At the end of the 90s the museum expanded and included an extension at the opposite side of the garden. The director decided is to have the permanent Peggy’s collection inside her palace and the extension for temporary exhibitions where every year they launch 2-3 new temporary exhibitions.

The expansion also include the creation of a small caffe which was the first museum caffe opened in Italy, at the end of 90s it was unusual to find a caffe inside a museum in Italy.

In 2012 the Schulhof collection arrived, composed by 80 artworks displayed in the wing side building called “ la barchessa”. Hannelore and Rudolph Schulhor were close friend with Peggy and donated the collection to the museum when Hannelore died.

In the palace there are only 7 rooms, where is displayed Peggy ’s collection of the main artist of the first half of the 20th century, moving to the “barchessa” the Schulhof collection completes the art history of the 20th century. The restoration of the buildings were done by Clemente Di Thiene first and more recently by Giacomo Di Thiene, a Venitan architecture firm.

Peggy’s Palace and Schulhof ‘Barchessa’ site plan


Overview of the staff:

The staff is composed by 45 people: the director of the museum who is also deputy director of the foundation, Philip Rylands, one public relation office, in which includes the press office, a development office and the special event office. A small group of people working as a register of the temporary exhibitions, but they are also responsible to record the artworks travelling around the world. One publication office, where all the editing work for the published exhibition catalogues are done. Two people dedicated management of the bookshop, one bookshops is located inside and one outside the museum and and of course the people working inside the bookshop. Staff of the visitors reception which is for them very important since it is their first presentation to the public.

Storage and Temporary exhibitions:

The museum shows around 70-80 percent of the whole collection in the permanent gallery and in temporary exhibition space.

A small part of the collection is located in two storages, the biggest in Venice Mestre and the smaller in a bunker in the basement of the palace. The strategy is to use the temporary exhibition to show part of the collection they can’t show inside the palace because its small dimensions. Currently they have an exhibition dedicated to Tancredi, and Italian artist ‘protege’ by Peggy. The collector sponsored in her life only two artists, Jackson Pollock and Tancredi Parmigiani who she fought to the best artists of the time.  The temporary exhibitions are usually formed by a range of 10 or less of artworks from Peggy’s collection and other from loans from other collection, collectors or museums. The temporary exhibition are formed always by this combination and it’s for them an excuse to focus better on few artworks.

Part of the collection is displayed in exhibitions around the world. In this specific moment the 23 artworks of her collection are now in New York at the Solomon  Guggenheim Museum where the exhibition “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim” a tribute to five visionaries collectors, amongst which one was of course Peggy was opened last Wednesday.


An other part of the collection is now displayed at the exhibition called ‘Guggenhein Full Abstaction” to the ING Art centre in Brussels


Private Museum Policy:

The PGM also have long-term loans and a good amount of artwork of the past 30 years were mainly donated and few acquired.

In regards on new acquisition policy they strategy is to complete Peggy’s collection so they acquire new artwork only if they are related to Peggy’s collection of art. It is very difficult for them to accept an artwork, the idea is to keep as Sara explains “ a fil rouge”  between the new collection and her acquisitions but also to look to new artists. They have recently acquire an Anish Kapoor which of course wasn’t alive when Peggy started her collection, but the idea is to complete the collection and to keep a eye on contemporary art. They look for a balance between her collection and contemporary art, not to extreme contemporary, as Sara clarifies ‘ we are not the Biennale’.

At the moment the museum has around 2030-2050 new artworks. The last donation received at the end of last year is a portrait by Modigliani, now under restoration and will be shown in May. It was donated to the museum by old lady living nearby because she believed in PGM institution.

Important to mention is that PGM is a private museum, not usual in Italy, which can received sponsorships and funds without difficulty compared to public museums. For this reason the museum has different level of memberships which contribute with annual fund-raising in order to acquire new artworks. They have a corporate membership with around 23 companies which contribute to fund but also to help organising temporary exhibitions with donation of goods. For example few years ago a textile company donated textiles for a baroque exhibition display. Similarly for the renovation of the cafe they have received lots of donations in goods.

Anish Kapoor recent acquisition


What’s Next:

In March they will open new rooms in the basement of the temporary exhibition gallery, currently under renovation, gives to the museum the possibility to create educational rooms. Because the museum limited spaces for them in difficult to expand and create new dedicated areas, their strategy is to optimise the existing buildings to create new activities for the general public but also for Venicians living in town as their primary aim.

The museum will open a big exhibition coinciding with the Venice biennale dedicated to Mark Tobey and at the end of the year there will be an other one devoted to “Le Salon de la Rose Croix “, French art from the beginning of the 20th century. In the temporary exhibition buildings the museum is opening two small rooms called “project rooms” for small exhibitions. The first one will open at the end of February dedicated to Rita Kernn-Larsen, a woman surrealist artist, as a tribute of her friendship with Peggy and at the end of august they will open an other small one to study Picasso’s “Le Bagnanti”.  The masterpiece shown in the permanent collection will be the focus of the so called “exhibition study” since Picasso in 1937 dedicated the whole summer to paint this subject. They will have other two paintings coming from the Museum Picasso in Paris and the Museum de Lion as well drawings of the same subject.

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Museum entrance towards the canal