Valley art and theater fans have the chance to experience a different kind of show Friday night.
1821 Gallery & Studios will show “The Collection,” an exhibition of wild, dynamic modern art within a play about famous art collector Peggy Guggenheim.
A limited number of seats remain for the show, which represents 62 years of Guggenheim’s life through 34 brief episodes of three minutes or less.
“It’s a fast journey through the highlights of her life: the turning points, the time where she makes a decision, ends a relationship, meets a new artist or challenges her daughter,” says playwright Al Schnupp.
Guggenheim was an eclectic socialite who wore outrageous glasses, kept two fluffy dogs in tow and embodied the zeitgeist of Europe and America during World War II. Her tumultuous life as art collector, lover and mother has inspired documentaries, movies, plays and biographies.
It takes people on a ride, and I hope that it would spur conversation about her and about a woman who used art to express herself.
Jaide Whitman, playing Peggy Guggenheim in ‘The Collection’
Jaide Whitman, who plays Guggenheim, says the show taught her about the inner life of the woman behind the collector. The biggest challenge of playing Guggenheim is creating the arc of a lifetime, Whitman says. For her, the payoff is seeing the audience have fun taking the journey.
40 the number of paintings integrated in the play
Three other actors – who play different characters in nearly every scene – create a whirlwind of artists audience members will recognize. The fifth “character” is the collection of paintings, which shows Guggenheim’s psyche and adds a dream layer to the reality the script portrays.
“It’s a marriage of art and theater in a way that’s never been done – that I know of,” says Schnupp, who is also a professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and has been involved in theater for 27 years. “I know plays about artists, but I know of no show where the art is integrated with the actors. I don’t know any play that has done anything we are attempting to do. In that way, it’s unique.”
The union of art and theater is vital to representing Guggenheim, who used her collection to express herself.
34 the number of 3-minute or less episodes in the play
“I think that’s what makes this play so relevant and exciting,” Whitman says. “You come out feeling everything for her. You feel an immense empathy for a woman who could never show love in a way that she wanted to. There’s things that she did in her life that many people wouldn’t agree with. It takes people on a ride, and I hope that it would spur conversation about her and about a woman who used art to express herself.”
It’s fitting that the story of Guggenheim and her collection, with some of the greatest pieces of art in the world, is told in a downtown Fresno art gallery.
Bruce Kalkowski is the owner and curator of 1821 Gallery & Studios, but he jokes that volunteering his gallery has made him a producer.
4 the number of actors
“I’m not afraid to try stuff, I think it’ll be a lot of fun,” Kalkowski says. “I can vouch for I think it’ll be an interesting production.”
He thinks that audience members will enjoy the atmosphere, the production’s staging and the subject matter. Behind the scenes, actors hang paintings from Guggenheim’s collection up on revolving panels so every episode has different paintings showing.
Kalkowski says he’ll be just as surprised as his fellow audience members: “I’ve never seen the play. This is a leap of blind faith.”