In her master’s thesis “Multi-Disciplinary Modernism: Peggy Guggenheim and the Art of This Century,” Katy Martin-Beal (MA Art History ’17) explores the life and legacy of Peggy Guggenheim, the enigmatic niece and art-collecting competitor of Solomon R. Guggenheim who took the art world by storm in the 1930s.
“I’ve always been interested in her as a collector. She was really progressive for her time,” says Martin-Beal, explaining that Guggenheim’s exhibitions broke with the traditionally male-dominated art world by showcasing nearly an equal number of female artists. “She also had a reputation for being eccentric and somewhat mysterious.”
Guggenheim was instrumental in shaping the avant-garde art movements that define the twentieth century, most notably Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. As she opened her own art spaces, including Art of This Century in New York, she became famous for hosting cutting-edge exhibitions and paving the road to success for many artists – including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock – by giving them their first solo shows. She was also known for her star-studded circle of friends, which included art stars and writers of the time such as Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, Djuna Barnes and her then husband Max Ernst.
In 1949, Guggenheim brought her collection to the Venice Biennale, laying the groundwork for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. After the Biennale, she moved her collection into the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where she also lived, opening it up to the public each summer before it became a full-fledged museum.
This December, Martin-Beal will head to Venice, Italy for an immersive two-month internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There, she will cycle between positions in the museum’s galleries, visitor services department and educational programs, gaining practical experience throughout the institution, as well as have access to the collection’s extensive library and archives, where she will expand upon her research on Guggenheim.
“I’m most looking forward to being in the place where Guggenheim, who I studied so extensively, lived,” says Martin-Beal. “It’s rare to experience a space that reflects the idiosyncrasies and personality of the collector.”
Though this internship is a major milestone in Martin-Beal’s career, it isn’t her first behind-the-scenes look at an esteemed art collection. In Houston, she served as a curatorial intern at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) and as a curatorial fellow at the Menil Collection – both experiences she feels helped tailor her application to the Guggenheim internship. She credits her mentors at the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts for guiding her toward internships that would complement her research.
“I’m very grateful to my professors and various museum mentors for pointing me in the right direction and providing me with guidance. I never imagined I would get to continue my research on Guggenheim in Venice,” she says, beaming. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”