Returning to Guggenheim’s book during the pandemic, the producer was especially inspired by Guggenheim’s “Exhibition by 31 Women,” which opened on January 5, 1943, at her New York gallery, Art of This Century, and is now believed to be the first US art show dedicated to female artists. According to Guggenheim’s autobiography, it was French dadaist Marcel Duchamp, her close friend and advisor, who suggested a show composed of female artists. He and Guggenheim juried the resulting exhibition, along with Surrealist leader André Breton, artist Max Ernst, curator James Johnson Sweeney, and dealer Howard Putzel—a lineup that reflected the male-dominated field that Guggenheim intrepidly disrupted.


Photo: Courtesy 31 Women Exhibition

While the exhibition included some well-known artists like Frida Kahlo, the majority of the 31 women—including Argentinian-born Italian surrealist Leonor Fini and Serbian painter and poet Milena Pavlović-Barili, who both contributed artworks to Vogue, and British painter and writer Meraud Guinness Guevara, who wrote for the magazine—have sadly faded into obscurity. What began as Segal’s casual Google search to assess how readily available these women’s works were rapidly grew into a personal collection of 200 pieces of art and ephemera. “It turned out the story I wanted to tell could be told through collecting the art,” says Segal. The producer even secured Guggenheim’s former 57th Street gallery for her office. “I knocked on the door during COVID just to see it. When I asked if I could rent it, they thought I was crazy. ”

From May 15 through 21 during Frieze Week, art enthusiasts can visit the historic site, where Segal has staged “The 31 Women Collection”, a highlights exhibition in homage to Guggenheim’s seminal show during the year of its 80th anniversary. To return the 1,800-square-foot office to its former glory, Segal enlisted architect Penelope Phylactopoulos of Oopsa creative studio and agency. Phylactopoulos constructed a curved wooden wall unit and furniture, as well as angular easel-like mounts, that evoke Austrian American architect Frederick Kiesler’s innovative display for the original gallery. Archival images of Art of This Century, and photographs and books related to the artists, are spread throughout the show to provide additional context for visitors inspired to learn more.

“Peggy was focusing on what was new, next, and avant-garde, as opposed to her uncle Solomon [founder of New York’s Guggenheim Museum], who focused on Old Masters for decades. She listened and became her own expert, and that was what resonated with me,” says Segal, who further identified with the collector’s Jewish heritage. While her Broadway productions have garnered 28 Tony nominations, and she is a trustee of the Open Stage Project and American Ballet Theatre, Segal’s engagement with fine art was previously quite limited. “When I started this journey, I didn’t know what I was doing. I kept asking different people in the field about these women, and many had never heard of them either.” Much like Guggenheim, who—despite coming from a serious art-collecting family—wanted to break out and establish her own footing, Segal was guided by intuition and an admirable dose of chutzpah.

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