Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Peggy Guggenheim's family revive feud by suing foundation over art collection. Family Feud, Guggenheim-style.

Peggy Guggenheim's family revive feud by suing foundation over art collection
Relatives claim foundation is not respecting wishes of patron whose Venice palazzo houses renowned modern-art collection
Anne Penketh in Paris

It is the most visited modern art museum in Italy, a sumptuous palace located on the Grand Canal in Venice.

But on Wednesday, the Peggy Guggenheim art collection will be the subject of a bitter court case in Paris pitting the mighty Guggenheim Foundation against two of the American art lover's grandchildren. It is another stage of a long-running family feud whose first round concluded in 1994 with the grandchildren's complaint being thrown out by a judge at the same Paris tribunal.

Sandro Rumney, who was born in Venice, and his half-brother Nicolas Hélion are going back to court with five of their children in an attempt to prove that their grandmother's heritage has been traduced. They accuse the Guggenheim Foundation in New York of ignoring Peggy Guggenheim's wishes that her collection remain intact and that other works should be displayed in another building on a temporary basis only. They are furious that of the 181 works on permanent display at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 75 were bequested by the collectors Hannelore and Rudolph Schulhof.

Rumney also says he is outraged by an inscription on the museum's Grand Canal facade, which he noticed during the Venice Biennale last year, acknowledging the "Schulhof Collection" next to the words "Peggy Guggenheim Collection".

"That was the last straw. The Guggenheim is horrible. This has been going on for 10 years now," Rumney told the Guardian. He is now in frail health after a stroke eight years ago.

In addition, Rumney and Hélion, the sons of Peggy Guggenheim's only daughter, Pegeen, complain that the museum's garden, in whose wall their grandmother's ashes are interred next to a plaque commemorating her 14 dogs, have been "desecrated" by donor receptions. The garden is now known as the "Nasher Sculpture Garden".

Their lawsuit demands that her donation to the foundation be revoked. "The Schulhof Collection should move out. There are now three buildings on the site; the Schulhof works can be put in one of the others," said Rumney's wife, Laurence Tâcu. The five children of Rumney and Hélion are named in their lawsuit, while three other grandchildren and one great-grandchild are supporting the Guggenheim Foundation, which was established in 1937 by Peggy Guggenheim's uncle. One grandchild is employed by the foundation.

The museum, the most-visited site in Venice after the Doge's Palace, is home to works by the masters of modern art including Jackson Pollock – whom she discovered – Picasso, Mondrian and Magritte. Rumney says one of his favourites is Eyes in the Heat by Pollock. When his grandmother opened her collection free to visitors three times a week when he was a child, he remembers her sitting at the entrance watching them while he handed out catalogues.

Peggy Guggenheim, who died in 1979 at the age of 81, led a colourful life as a socialite and married three times, divorcing her last husband Max Ernst in 1946. While in Europe in the pre-war years, she built up her fabulous collection, which she was able to keep safe from the Nazis by fleeing Paris. She bought the 18th-century Venice palazzo in 1949 and made it her home.

The plaintiffs contend that when she bequeathed the collection to the Guggenheim Foundation, it was intended as a kind of visual autobiography. They notably point to a 1969 exchange of letters with her cousin Harry Guggenheim, then president of the foundation, in which he accepted her strict conditions that the collection should be "kept as a whole and at the palazzo", without additions.

After the descendants sued the foundation in Paris 12 years ago and lost their case, they reached an agreement in 1996 before an appeal came to court. But Rumney and Hélion say that the 1996 protocol has also been breached and accuse the foundation of "commercial cynicism".

The Guggenheim Foundation has attacked the "baseless allegations" in the lawsuit. It says that the two grandchildren are "not her heirs and are not mentioned in her will", which left her entire estate to Sindbad Vail, her son from her first marriage.

The foundation's statement insists that receptions held in the garden had "consideration" for the quiet spot where Peggy Guggenheim's urn is buried. It adds that the current "frivolous" lawsuit should be rejected as it contains the same allegations put forward in the first case.

Asked how he feels about his family being at war over his grandmother's legacy for so many years, Rumney, 55, replied: "It's tough for me, you know."

Family Feud, Guggenheim-style: Relatives of eccentric, heiress art collector and the foundation that holds her collection in lawsuit over an Italian palazzo and a 'desecrated' grave
The family claims a palazzo Peggy Guggenheim donated to the Guggenheim Foundation isn't being used as the heiress intended
Guggenheim's family claims the palazzo was not to be altered
The foundation, however, has added artwork, and the names of other donors to the Italian gallery
The family feels the additions are cheapening the palazzo

Most family disputes don't make headlines. But most families don't have the last name of Guggenheim, and most disputes aren't over an art collection forth tens of millions of dollars.
But that's exactly what's about to play out in a French courtroom after descendents of eccentric, millionaire art collector Peggy Guggenheim decided to sue the Guggenheim Foundation - to which Peggy left her vast collection of expensive art - over claims that the foundation is not honoring the wishes of the deceased heiress.
Essentially, the family feels the foundation is cheapening the collection by allowing other artists to display their collections at an Italian palazzo in Venice that was left to the foundation as part of the collection.
The palazzo is actually home to the tomb of Peggy Guggenheim - and 14 of her dogs.
The last straw for the family appears to have come when the foundation put the names of Rudolph and Hannelore Schulhof on an entrance to the palazzo that also has the name of Guggenheim - and dogs with names like Cappuccino and Sir; Guggenheim's 'beloved babies,' according to the New York Times.
The Schulhofs are the parents of Guggenheim Foundation trustee Michael Schulof, who included some of his family's collection with Guggenheim's at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice.
'They are totally disrespecting my great grandmother’s legacy,' Guggenheim's great grandson Sindbad Rumney, 27, told The Independent. 'Basically… if you have [enough] money and you have a collection, you can show it at the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice.'
Guggenheim left her collection - at the time worth about $40 million - the the foundation in 1975, four years before her 1979 death.
The family claims that the collection was given to the foundation on the condition that it stay together and not be altered in any way - not only does the family claim that pieces of the collection cannot be sold, they also claim pieces can't be added to the collection.

According to the family, of the 181 pieces currently on display at the palazzo, 75 are from the recently added Schulhof collection.
Additionally, the family also accuses the foundation of desecrating Guggenheim's grave because her tomb is in the palazzo in what is now a 'sculpture garden' that is often used for cocktail parties.
What once was Guggenheim's grave is now 'The Nasher Sculpture Garden' - named after Texas billionaires Patsy and Raymond Nasher.
Rumney's mother, art writer Laurence Tacou, told Paris Match that the foundation was using the Venice palazzo as 'an extraordinary cash machine' and that it should be turned over to a non-profit committee.
The foundation, however, claims there were no specific demands made by Guggenheim about how her collection was to be used.
'[Our] efforts have only honoured, preserved and enhanced the memory and reputation of Peggy Guggenheim,' Betsy Ennis, a Guggenheim spokeswoman, told The Independent.
Why is a dispute over something in Italy being resolved in a French court? As the publication explains, 'Like any good family quarrel, this one goes back a long way. The French judicial system declared itself competent to intervene when two “branches” of the Guggenheim family last fell out 22 years ago. Seven of Peggy Guggenheim’s Paris-based descendants have now asked the French courts to intervene again.'

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