I first discovered Hilla Rebay while reading a fascinating book about the life of Peggy Guggenheim, Mistress of Modernism by Mary V. Dearborn, who happened to be my office mate while I was New York City Scholar at the Heyman Center for Humanities at Columbia University several years ago. Peggy’s life was filled with a cast of interesting art world characters, but Hilla Rebay was clearly someone I needed to know more about. As often happens when a new curiosity enters your consciousness, by chance I was meeting with my colleague Kim Kanatani at the Guggenheim, and found that she had been researching Rebay as well. I would encourage you to take in the current exhibition Hilla Rebay: Art Educator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum before it closes on August 23.
We are fortunate that Kim Kanatani, Deputy Director and Gail Engelberg Director of Education at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, will speak about Hilla Rebay and how her thinking has shaped contemporary practices at the Guggenheim in Mining Modern Museum Education on Friday, June 25, at MoMA. Below, she gives us a sneak peek into her upcoming presentation.
Hilla Rebay and the Living Legacy of Education at the Guggenheim
“People must be educated to appreciate great art.”—Hilla Rebay
Hilla Rebay (1890–1967), the Guggenheim’s first curator and director, believed that education was a key function of a museum long before museums were seen as important educational institutions. Yet her interests and initiatives in the area of art museum education have remained largely unrecognized. Her remarkably progressive efforts provided 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. She fervently believed in the spirituality of art and its educational powers. As a testimony to her foresight, innovative spirit, and intuitive educational sensibilities, nearly seven decades later many of Rebay’s initiatives exist today as standard art museum education practice. Today we can look back at her vision and ideas and see how they continue to resonate in the contemporary educational mission at the Guggenheim. How have her philosophies about teaching and learning informed the Guggenheim’s current educational agenda? What pivotal roles can living artists and the “spaces” of art and education play in fostering personally meaningful experiences with works of art? On Friday I will speak about specific initiatives that the Guggenheim has implemented in recent years to expand upon Rebay’s educational values and to re-envision the museum’s architecture and design as a space for art and education in the twenty-first century. I hope you’ll join us for what’s sure to be a fascinating discussion!