1950s and 1960s

Construction of the museum. Photo: William H. Short

Rebay resigns and James Johnson Sweeney is named director of the museum. The name of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting is changed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to distinguish it as a memorial to its founder, who died in 1949, and to signify a shift toward a broader view of modern and contemporary art. Under Sweeney, the foundation purchases several sculptures by Constantin Brancusi and other important artists whose work does not fall within the category of "non-objective" art.

Opening day. Photo: Robert E. Mates

The museum opens to an enthusiastic public on October 21, just six months after Wright's death. From the beginning, the relationship between the breathtaking architecture of the building and the art it was built to display inspires controversy and debate. One critic writes that the museum "has turned out to be the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown," while another insists that the structure is "less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright."

Alexander Calder and Thomas Messer. Photo: Pedro Guerrero

One year after the resignation of Sweeney, Thomas M. Messer is appointed director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He will remain in that position for twenty-seven years, during which time he greatly expands the collection and establishes the Guggenheim as a world-class institution known for its art scholarship and special exhibitions.

Justin and Hilde Thannhauser. Photo courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Archives, New York

Over the years, Justin Thannhauser and his wife, Hilde, will give the Guggenheim more than seventy works, including thirty-four by Picasso alone. This donation greatly enlarges the scope of the collection to include painting of the 19th century, beginning with Camille Pissaro’s The Hermitage at Pontoise (1867).

Hilla Rebay

Hilla Rebay, the
First Director

Visit Archives Collection online for more on Hilla Rebay.

Pablo Picasso, Woman with Yellow Hair (Femme aux cheveux jaunes), Paris, December 1931

The permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum constitutes the very core of the institution.

Guggenheim staff, 1968

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