Documentarian Lisa Immordino Vreeland has made two documentaries in a row about iconoclastic women who helped enlighten less enlighten times, all while working in the art world without being artists. But both “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” on the Vogue goddess, and the new “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” about the pioneering art collector, argue that they were as integral to culture as those whose works they helped expose. We spoke to Vreeland about her latest look at a pioneer.
Did you see many similarities between Vreeland and Guggenheim?
There are similarities. Obviously they’re both women. They’re both iconic and important characters of the 20th century. They both had strong personalities. They were freethinkers and they both wanted to reinvent themselves. That’s what intrigues me the most, this sense of reinvention. They both came from unhappy childhoods. I don’t want them to sound spoiled; it’s not like they were poor and beaten up by their mothers. But they wanted to break away from the constraints of their childhoods. In Peggy’s case, she had a traditional upbringing. The Guggenheims were part of that generation of Jewish families that were called “the art crowd Jews,” who had come to America and built their fortunes but lived with rules attached. They had nannies, they had rituals, they were basically like the Rockefellers. It was a very insular crowd. It was something Peggy didn’t feel comfortable with. She was able to break out at the age of 26. She found this freedom.
They’re both kinds of figures who aren’t usually put on pedestals. They helped highlight artists, which, it can be argued, is just as important as creating art.
John Richardson [art historian], who’s one of the main characters in the film, he used the word “pollinator” to define her. All these things happened around her and people gravitated towards her. You could say it was about being in the right place at the right time, but it’s also about having the ability to support these people and create this atmosphere that can facilitate things. There’s some people who say she was an accidental tourist in her own life. I don’t feel that’s true. I don’t think any of this is by accident, because you have to have a personality to match. She was smart enough to ask for Marcel Duchamp’s help. You can only do that if you’re really open.