Hilla Rebay: Art Educator

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Hilla Rebay in her Carnegie Hall studio, 1935

Hilla Rebay in her Carnegie Hall studio, 1935. The Hilla von Rebay Foundation Archives. Photo: Eugene Hutchinson

January 29–August 22, 2010

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 features 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 nonobjective 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 nonobjective 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 works. Comment books in the galleries enabled visitors to share their responses. Study prints and posters were sent to individuals and schools free of charge. Nonobjective works submitted to the foundation offices were 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, sixty-five years later many of Rebay’s initiatives exist today as standard art museum education practice.

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