Have Peggy Guggenheim’s Descendants Violated Her Wishes?

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has issued a statement refuting the complaints of Peggy Guggenheim’s descendants as leveled in the current lawsuit filed over the operations of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

As artnet News reported last week, the case hinges on whether Guggenheim’s donation of her Venice palazzo came with strings attached, and if the Foundation is obligated to display the collection in its entirety and without additional works.

The Foundation alleges that the plaintiffs, despite their argument that Guggenheim’s collection should be displayed as it was during her lifetime, have been “instrumental in organizing 14 exhibitions of works entirely foreign to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection” shown on the museum grounds between 1999 and 2013.

The lawsuit is being brought to bear by Sandro Rumney and Nicolas Hélion, Guggenheim’s grandchildren by her daughter Pegeen Vail, and their children. As the Foundation points out, Guggenheim’s sole heir was her son, Sindbad Vail. His children are not involved in the suit, and, according to the Foundation, “have expressed disappointment about its having been initiated.”

Rumney and Hélion, along with their late brother David Hélion, filed a similar suit against the Foundation in 1992, which was rejected by the French court.

The Foundation statement claims that the brothers agreed to settle upon appeal, contributing $30,000 to the Foundation’s court costs and agreeing to acknowledge “the exclusive right of the Foundation to the exercise of its control over conservation of the Collection and exhibition of the works of art in the Palace.”

The current suit, says the Foundation, has been filed “on grounds that the same court has already found to be baseless, and that the plaintiffs themselves abandoned in the 1996 settlement agreement.”

Another major component of the suit is Rumney and Hélion’s objection to artworks donated by Rudolph B. and Hannelore B. Schulhof being added to the museum collection, and the addition of the Schulhofs’ names to the museum facade. According to the foundation, the brothers “have donated multiple works to be kept and exhibited at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.”

The Foundation also rejects the case’s allegations that events held in the palazzo garden where Guggenheim is buried desecrate her grave in any way, and point out that the brothers have been regular guests at garden functions over the years. They argue that “these events carry forward Peggy Guggenheim’s own tradition of sociability in the garden. They are held with great consideration and respect for the quiet corner of the garden in which Peggy Guggenheim’s urn is interred.”

“Despite the frivolous lawsuit,” the statement reads, “the Foundation has worked to make the name of Peggy Guggenheim and the renown of her achievements more celebrated than ever before.”

The case’s hearing is scheduled in Paris on May 21.

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