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Venice 1949: Peggy Guggenheim's Sculpture Garden

The Research Library holds a copy of the catalogue published for Peggy Guggenheim’s 1949 sculpture exhibition – Mostra di Scultura Contemporanea –  a publication rarely available outside Italy.

The first Venice Biennale after World War Two was an opportunity to reintroduce Italy to the outside world, to absorb and share new artistic concerns and influences. Within this context, the American collector Peggy Guggenheim was a key figure. After exhibiting her unique collection at the Biennale’s Greek Pavilion, she acquired the Renaissance Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal in order to transform it into a permanent home for both herself and her art collection.

In 1949, Guggenheim decided to open the Palazzo garden to the public in order to exhibit artworks by the most important modern and contemporary sculptors of the time. She asked Giuseppe Marchiori (1901-82) to write the introduction to  the small catalogue, Marchiori being one of the most prominent art historians in the country and a tireless promoter of contemporary sculpture following the end of Fascist  restrictions.

This exhibition laid the foundation for what would become the first museum of modern and contemporary art in Italy. Alongside avant-garde artists Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Antoine Pevsner (1884-1962) and internationally famous sculptors such as Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), the exhibition included younger Italian artists, Mirko (Mirko Basaldella 1910-69) and Pietro Consagra (1920-2005).

In their analysis of modern sculpture’s evolution, Marchiori and Guggenheim consecrated a certain type of anthropomorphic abstract art and reunited Italian modern sculpture with a wider European sculptural practice after a long time of artistic isolation.


William Cortes, MA student at the University of Leicester and Henry Moore Institute intern.