Every day for a month, I woke up across the canal from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. My walk to work was short to say the least. Every morning, we would remove the “pyjamas” from their owners – the paintings that is – in preparation to open the galleries. Whilst the interns never received the role of cleaning the galleries with immense excitement, these moments served as one of the only times of each day, and most likely in my life, whereI had complete access to such iconic masterpieces of modern art. Those mornings allowed me deep moments of reflection in a space free of visitors, crowds, and complaints. Never did I think I would come face to face, let alone, hand to glass, with Magritte’s Empire of Light amongst the many other treasures in the collection. Although not every moment was magical, as I can recall scraping bird excrement off the works in the sculpture garden, most memories remain sacred and etched in my mind, privileged instants of introspection and access, which I will no doubt celebrate for years to come.
Activities after work would often consist of aperitivi at the nearby pub… for two euros, and lots of laughter on the menu! We were a group of fifteen interns across cultures and borders, brought together by the love of art and an interest in exploring Venice’s landscape. Some, I know, will remain friends for life as we shared so many fond memories, particularly cooking delicious meals together at each other’s homes and exploring Venice and its treasures during our days off. I also realised after a day or two of work, that having some basic knowledge of Italian would have been helpful, given that I was working in a museum…in Italy. And so, I very much enjoyed and was EXTREMELY grateful for my crash course in Italian, given to me daily by my fellow Italian interns. I have to say that I was privileged to meet such an extraordinary group of people.
At the museum we had free rein to explore any aspect of the collection and present our thoughts and findings to the curatorial committee. The presentation I enjoyed making the most was on Peggy’s Silver Bed Head which she commissioned Alexander Calder to produce in 1943. This beautiful work displays an array of dynamic marine motifs, made of cut and beaten silver leaves, whose reflective quality greatly connects the palazzo and Peggy to Venice and its landscape. If only Calder had made a second headboard for my bedroom…
I will hold the warmest memories of my time in Venice during such a critical period of human history. I experienced the city in a way never made possible to most; imagine visiting San Marco square on an early Saturday morning and being the only one there! The pandemic has had its silver linings and for me it afforded an experience like no other in this city of wonder.