Venice: a meeting with Karole P. B. Vail, Peggy Guggenheim’s granddaughter

November 17, 2020

"When I rode sculptures" 

Director of the Guggenheim Collection for three years, she conceives the museum as a place of enrichment for everybody

“Art is essential in our daily lives. It has always played a crucial role for humanity. Art is communication; it is dynamic and always moves on. Even if it looks to the past, it looks to the future. Art is intellectual pleasure, beauty, and challenge. It makes people reflect and has a great power of transformation - as Kandinsky said - it is therapeutic, especially in times of crisis like the one we are living in”. With her lively and gentle but also penetrating and deep gaze on the art world, Karole P. B. Vail has been the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice since 2017. She succeeded Philip Rylands, who remained in office for 37 years. Rylands became director in 1979, the year when the founder Peggy died. Born in New York, the collector, patron, and promoter of artists has always been in love with Venice.

So, she bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal and turned it into a museum house visitors can enter for free. When she died, she created a close connection between her extraordinary collection of twentieth-century works and the Serenissima Republic. Original and visionary, she discovered and supported many young artists, including great names such as Kandinsky, Tanguy, Pollock, and Italian artists such as Vedova, Bacci, Tancredi, Apollonio, and Biasi. She introduced Venice to artists such as Gorky, Rothko, and Max Ernst, and purchased masterpieces by Picasso, Mondrian, Dalí, and Brancusi. She gave room to women artists and did not limit herself to European-American art, buying works by artists from Africa and Oceania. 

Karol spent the holidays at her grandmother's house, dining with her among masterpieces and moving along the Grand Canal on a gondola 

As a child, her niece Karole P. B. Vail used to spend her holidays in Palazzo Venier, where she rode the sculptures in the garden, dined with her grandmother among masterpieces, and moved along the canals of Venice on her gondola. Karole is the daughter of Michael Cedric Sindbad, the son of Peggy’s first husband, Laurence Vail. He was a child of art too, and an artist, writer, and sculptor, and played a major role in the growth of Peggy’s love of art. Karole P. B. Vail is a curator and writer who has been part of the curatorial staff of the Guggenheim in New York since 1997. She grew up in Europe, studied in London, and lived in Florence. Today, she is at the head of one of the most important museums of twentieth-century European and American art in Italy.

“The role of the museum is to teach and educate. It was its mission in 1937 when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (to which our Venice foundation is affiliated, together with a constellation of museums including the Guggenheim in New York, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and the future Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi) was established, and it is its mission today. The museum must be a place of sharing where people can enjoy beauty, a place of learning as well as meeting and exchange. It aims to preserve works of art and keep the dialogue with visitors alive. This was Peggy’s dream; in fact, she did not collect works for herself only, but generously opened the doors of her house to people. Likewise, our museum generously welcomes visitors of all ages, conditions, and backgrounds.” Art at the Guggenheim Collection is not an elite phenomenon but a treasure available to everyone.

The Author

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The daughter of collectors, she focuses on the history of visual art - her field of interest – and on writing - a passion she has cultivated since her childhood. A happy and fateful meeting as a teenager, while she was listening to Battisti, the Genesis and de André, led her to love Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schubert, chamber music and symphonic music. She is attracted to all the southern lands in the world, to the sea and to dark chocolate. She curates exhibitions and has written for different magazines in Italy and abroad. She feels happy and honoured to be a part of the AW ArtMag staff since its first release. Always looking for a motto, which she fatefully changes in tune with the dynamism of existence, in the present times she finds truth and comfort in Dante's "but to follow virtue and knowledge".

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