The Guggenheims, father and sons, amassed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in rather less than fifty years. The money was longer in the spending, but in the process some of the family displayed a disposition to take remarkable chances. Of Meyer’s sons, the venturesome spenders were Daniel, Solomon, and Simon. Simon’s widow followed her husband in unusual benefactions. And of the grandchildren, Harry and Peggy were highly original, and in the latter case, singular and eccentric patrons. The Guggenheim fortune came out of the American earth, in mainly mining and smelting, but in unusually imaginative fashion, several of them ploughed a great part of it back for the general enrichment.
Meyer Guggenheim was the classic rags to riches story, from street peddler to investor, and by 1880 his little pile had grown big enough to show that he was truly a Guggenheim, which is to say a mettlesome gambler, and took his plunge into one of the riskiest of all ventures, silver mining. Two mines in Leadville, Colorado. Like any good gambler, he knew the odds and despite some discouraging early news of flooded mineshafts, he struchk it rich and his property was now spinning out $100,000 a month at the time, but instead of the happy trails fade-out this was the beginning leading to smelters and other related business such as selling refined metals and ore buying. No one could compete with this energetic and hydra headed intelligence of the patriarch and his seven sons.
When Meyer died in 1905, his sons were worth about $40,000,000, but were only fairly launched on their way. Guggenheim steam shovels were scraping the hide off Utah and Nevada and New Mexico in the search for copper porphyries; and investors were gambling on properties with strange and exotic names like Esperanza, Santa Rita and Nipissing on no other surety than the hint that Guggenheims were implicated.
The Great War of 1914-18 didn’t seem to shave the profits f those concerned with the production of copper . What with one thing and another, it was estimated that by the 1920′s the firm of Guggenheim Brothers was worth $200,000,000. They had got; they had got more of it; they had stepped on some toes in the pursuit of it; but now they were slowing down. It was time to reflect on what Francis Bacon had said: “Money is like muck, not good unless spread.” One after another, the four brothers established foundations to fork it around.
There is nothing quite so timid as a large sum of money. It might have been expected that the brothers would compliantly follow the course of say Carnegie and Rockefeller who, astraddle their moneybags, cautiously and prudently fertilize public libraries and public health, but striking out boldly along unexplored paths and gambling with risky cards that unsure bets would pay off was out of the question. Not for three of the Guggenheims.
But it was Solomon that undertook the most incautious and aberrant of all possible benefactions, the espousal of extreme avant-garde art. Before WWI he had peered curiously into the unfamiliar world of the art dealer and expert, the world where he feared that any murky portrait by an early Dutchman might be attributed to Rembrandt and any cinquecento painting to Titian. With more confidence he had bought some American landscapes and some examples of the Barbizon school. Growing bolder, by 1930 he began, under the enthusiastic tutelage of the Baroness Hilla Rebay to buy the work of such abstract painters as Kandinsky, Delauney, Gleizes, Leger and Mondrian; sine the Baroness excessively admired the work of her countryman Rudolf Bauer, he also bought some dozens of the German artist’s paintings.
By 1937 he had endowed his own Muse
f Non-Objective Art, with the Baroness as its director, in which his collection was displayed, usually at knee level. In these odd surroundings, the Baroness was in her element. She once told a young painter who applied for a museum scholarship, ” You mst be very careful, in not modulating with light and dark if you want to express cosmic rhythm and create the feeling of elevating spirituality.”
The catalogues had dense prose written by the Baroness, and Edward Alden Jewell wrote, “a religious cult set to incidental music.” But what Solomon had done in fact was to get in on the ground floor, or perhaps even the bargain basement, of the vogue for abstract art that was to prove so overwhelmingly popular in the 1950′s.
In a September 22, 2009 article entitled “Falling Apart and Holding Together Kandinsky’s Development” at artnet.com, Donald Kuspit provided the following commentary about the artist:
“Wieland Schmied has called Kandinsky’s pre-World War I paintings ‘apocalyptic landscapes,’ arguing that they are informed with apocalyptic destructiveness, but also the elated expectation of post-apocalyptic redemption. The intense colors on which Kandinsky placed so much esthetic and expressive hope have redemptive power, even as their brightness is sometimes streaked with painful shadow. The forceful black lines, sometimes stylized squiggles and typically at odds with each other, awkwardly frame the eccentric patches of color, but also create an effect of what Kandinsky called ‘dissonance,’ suggesting apocalyptic destructiveness.The incoherence of Kandinsky’s apocalyptic landscapes – the messiness left after a so-called emotional storm, a destructive tornado that suddenly appears, an angel of death who comes out of the blue, that is, a horseman of the apocalypse (which is what Kandinsky’s and Marc’s ‘Blue Rider’ is [he has been associated with St. George who killed the dragon, but he quickly changes from a graceful realistic rider in an early representation to a demonic abstract rider in a later representation] – is the expression of the disintegrative terror and traumatic horror of the apocalypse. They convey the psychic truth that one has lost control of one’s consciousness and has no control of the world and thus become helpless….Kandinsky was able to impose geometrical order on his gestural disorder, which brings it under superficial control without changing it. The late geometrical works are abortive attempts to create a clear and distinct abstract picture rather than a sort of creative apperception – or at least introspective awareness – of his own breakdown.Read More:http://www.thecityreview.com/kandinsky.html