Jean Cocteau: The Juggler's Revenge

Organized by Kenneth E. Silver

From April 13 through September 16, 2024, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection presents Jean Cocteau: The Juggler’s Revenge, the largest retrospective ever organized in Italy dedicated to Jean Cocteau (1889–1963), the enfant terrible of the French twentieth-century art scene.

Organized by eminent Cocteau specialist and New York University art historian Kenneth E. Silver, the exhibition highlights the artist’s versatility, the multiple juggling acts that distinguished his production, which often drew criticism from his contemporaries. Loans from prestigious institutions, such as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, and the Musée Jean Cocteau, Collection Séverin Wunderman in Menton, as well as major private collections, including the Cartier Collection, gather over one hundred and fifty works in an impressive variety of media. These include drawings, graphics, jewelry, tapestries, historical documents, books, magazines, photographs, documentaries, and films directed by Cocteau, which trace the development of this multifaced artist’s unique and highly personal aesthetics, alongside the highlights of his tumultuous career.

Teaser - Jean Cocteau: The Juggler’s Revenge

Jean Cocteau, Peggy Guggenheim, and Venice

Orfeo and the Academician Sword

Jean Cocteau and Classicism

Jean Cocteau and Felix Gonzales-Torres

Among the most influential figures of the twentieth century, Cocteau was impressively prolific. He referred to himself as a poet, but he was also a novelist, playwright, and critic whose subjects ranged from art and music to other expository forms such as travel writing and memoirs. At the same time, he was also a gifted, highly original, and innovative visual artist. This side of the artist’s creative life is focus of the exhibition organized by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Cocteau the draftsman, graphic artist, muralist, fashion-jewelry-and-textile designer, and filmmaker. For his eclectic nature, he could easily be described as a modern-age “Renaissance man,” whose extraordinary versatility left an indelible mark on twentieth-century art. A key figure of the French art scene of his time, his circle included such artists as Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel, Sergei Diaghilev, Edith Piaf, Pablo Picasso, and Tristan Tzara. However, the frank assertion of his homosexuality and the opium addiction he never attempted to conceal, meant he occupied a precarious position within the avant-garde. A man of the French establishment yet subversive of it, Cocteau embodied the cultural, social, and political contradictions of his age.


Jean Cocteau, Fear Giving Wings to Courage (La Peur donnant des ailes au courage), 1938, graphite, chalk, and crayon on cotton, 154,9 x 272,1 cm. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Mr. Cornelius Ruxton Love Jr © Adagp/Comité Cocteau, Paris, by SIAE 2024.

Jean Cocteau, Brother Rivals (Les Frères ennemis), 1925, ink and colored pencil on paper, 26.8 x 20.9 cm. Collection Kinzel-Schilling, Basel © Adagp/Comité Cocteau, Paris, by SIAE 2024.

Jean Cocteau, Oedipus, or, the Crossing of Three Roads (Œdipe ou le carrefour des trois routes), 1951, oil on canvas, 97 x 129 cm. Private Collection © Adagp/Comité Cocteau, Paris, by SIAE 2024.

Jean Cocteau, Orpheus’s Mirror (Miroir d’Orphée), 1960/1989, gilded bronze, silver, and copper, 32 x 20 x 9 cm, edition Artcurial 1/20. Collection Kontaxopoulos Prokopchuk, Brussels Photo © © Adagp/Comité Cocteau, Paris, by SIAE 2024.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive illustrated catalogue, edited by Marsilio Arte, with essays by curator Kenneth E. Silver and Blake Oetting.
Jean Cocteau: The Juggler’s Revenge is made possible by the generous support of Cartier, as main sponsor of the exhibition.

Public Programs

Alongside the Jean Cocteau: the Juggler's Revenge exhibition, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection offers a varied program of collateral events that analyze, interpret, and spread knowledge about Cocteau’s artistic process to the museum’s various audiences.

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  • Allegrini + Apice + Arper + Eurofood + Florim + Hangar Design Group + Istituto Europeo di Design + Itago + Mapei + René Caovilla + Rubelli + Swatch

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