Hilla Rebay: Arts Educator

Hilla Rebay: Arts Educator

May 20–August 10, 2005 and June 9, 2006–September 19, 2007

When one thinks of Hilla Rebay, the words artist, curator, founder, and director of the Guggenheim Museum often come to mind. But her interests and initiatives as an art and museum educator have remained largely unrecognized. Hilla Rebay: Art Educator highlighted some of her remarkably progressive efforts to provide a variety of audiences—from youth and teachers to artists and museum visitors—with opportunities to learn about “non-objective” art, or art without representational links to the material world.

Rebay had a clear vision of how the museum should function, as well as how it should present non-objective paintings. As museum director, she gave gallery talks and instructed her staff, comprised primarily of artists, to “advise people who visited the museum.” The paintings on view were purposefully hung close to the floor and accompanied by comfortable gallery seating and music to encourage sustained, contemplative viewing of the work. Comment books in the galleries enabled visitors to share their responses. Study prints and posters were sent to individuals and schools free of charge. Non-objective work submitted to the foundation offices was returned along with a written critique, and Rebay would sometimes note her “corrections” directly on the canvas or paper, in the tradition of the European masters. Painters of promise were awarded scholarships and funding for art supplies. As a testimony to her foresight, innovative spirit, and intuitive educational sensibilities, 65 years later many of Rebay’s initiatives exist today as standard art museum education practice.

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