Reel to Reel Collection & Clips

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The Reel to Reel Collection: Historic audio clips from the Museum Archives

In 1953, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (SRGM), under the directorship of James Johnson Sweeney, announced the inauguration of a series of free art lectures and gallery tours in connection with its educational programs. The first regularly scheduled series of illustrated lectures on modern art at the museum began in 1961 under the directorship of Thomas M. Messer. Distinguished speakers in these first lectures included Messer; Clement Greenberg, art critic; H.H. Arnason, Vice-President for Art Administration at SRGM; and James A. Michener, popular author and collector. 

In following years, the regularly scheduled lectures given by guest speakers and museum staff were supplemented by special lecture series on various artists. Often held in connection with exhibitions, these series profiled the work of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Vasily Kandinsky, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Robert Motherwell, Juan Gris, and Julio Gonzalez. The lectures also expanded to include artists working in disciplines other than the visual arts; from 1964 to 1975, the Academy of American Poets sponsored poetry readings at SRGM. 

In the 1970s, the Guggenheim collaborated with WNYC to produce "Round and About the Guggenheim," an interview program moderated by Mimi Poser. This program was directed toward a popular audience and designed to acquaint listeners with events in the art world, in particular, at SRGM. Participants in the series included artists, art historians, gallery and auction house owners, and private collectors. 

The Hilla Rebay Lecture Series was established in 1978 under the museum's auspices by the Hilla von Rebay Foundation to bring distinguished scholars to SRGM. The inaugural lecture was given by Sir Ernest Gombrich in 1980 on "Image and Word in Twentieth Century Art." Series lecturers included speakers such as Douglas Cooper, Pierre Schneider, Robert L. Herbert, Leo Steinberg, and John E. Bowlt. 

The Reel to Reel collection is 21 cubic feet and consists of 675 reel-to-reel audiotapes documenting museum lectures, symposia, and radio shows from 1952 to 1990. 

With the generous support of a 2009-2011 National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) detailed processing grant and New York Public Radio, the Museum Archives is digitizing the bulk of the collection.

Historic Audio Clips

Rose-Carol Washton Long, "Kandinsky: Early Years," October 24, 1964

In 1964, Rose-Carol Washton Long, renowned Kandinsky scholar and former research fellow at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, explored Vasily Kandinsky’s move from a loose painterly style to the rigid geometric abstraction of the Bauhaus years. In this clip she discusses the impact of the time he spent in Russia in 1916, where he encountered the stark geometric abstraction of Kazimir Malevich, who, like Kandinsky, was influenced by Theosophy and sought to imbue his painting with spiritual and cosmic significance.


Hilla Rebay, "Hilla Rebay Lecture," December 3, 1952
In this clip from 1952, Hilla Rebay, founding director and curator of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, the forerunner of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, speaks on the "command" between nonobjective and the objective, the first years of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, and her childhood memories of nonobjectivity and spiritual "things." 


Hilla Rebay, "Hilla Rebay Lecture," December 3, 1952
In a second clip from 1952, Hilla Rebay reminisces about her teenage years and her pivotal decision to pursue art rather than music.


Thomas M. Messer, "Address to the National Society of Arts and Letters," May 11, 1976
Thomas M. Messer, director emeritus, addresses the National Society of Arts and Letters on May 11, 1976. In this clip, he speaks about the history of the museum, the influence of his predecessors, and the development of the art collection.


Image © Twitty

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Guggenheim staff, 1968

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