Peggy Guggenheim, Vincent Meessen, and the Ritual of Collaboration at the Venice Biennale

As an artist, if you’ve made it to the Venice Biennale, it likely means your work will be remembered. Inclusion in the storied exhibition offers a stamp of international approval and, for some, a gateway into the art-historical canon. Greats like Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Ed Ruscha, and Yayoi Kusama headlined Biennale presentations in their early days. However, bringing your most ambitious artwork to a small city surrounded by water is no easy feat. It requires collaboration between artists and the many personages who support their work and ideas, from patrons, to curators, to fellow artists, to assistants. In two films, we explore the collaborative spirit that has bolstered the Biennale since its inception, 120 years ago.

Peggy Guggenheim: The Black Sheep

Peggy Guggenheim stands as one of art history’s most powerful, flamboyant archetypes for patronage. She launched the careers of Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Hans Hoffman, and Mark Rothko, and her legacy is visible most clearly in Venice’s Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where she lived for much of her life and where the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is housed today. Her name has become synonymous with sustained and impassioned support of artists throughout their careers, elaborate sunglasses, and coteries of shih tzus. Here, filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who recently released the documentary Peggy Guggenheim—Art Addict, discusses Guggenheim’s revolutionary approach to patronage. “What drove her was a passion for the artists. Today, it is so much about financial investment, and this was not at all what she was thinking about,” says Vreeland. “She really did it for the love of the art, and I think that is an important message that she wanted to give us.”

The Belgian Pavilion: Personne et les autres

For this year’s Belgian Pavilion, artist Vincent Meessen passed up the opportunity to present a solo exhibition and, instead, invited an international cohort of creators to show with him. “Personne et les autres” explores contemporary global exchange and creative collaboration within the context of Belgium’s colonial history. Artists from Belgium, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, French Guyana, Italy, Pakistan, the United States, and Zimbabwe come together as a global network of voices—an approach that undermines the traditional structure of the Biennale’s Olympics-style national pavilion model. Here, Meessen and Congolese artist Sammy Baloji discuss the progressive artistic and sociopolitical potential of collaboration. “This idea of collaboration is a strong thing—it’s a need to share an experience, a space, a culture,” says Baloji. “To talk about our reality, and also to dream.”

—Artsy Editors


Films directed by Poppy de Villeneuve.


Explore the 56th Venice Biennale on Artsy.