Hilla Rebay, Art Patroness and Founder of the Guggenheim Museum of Art

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There are few museums more famous today than the Guggenheim. While most people would recognize the name or the sight of the building very few know the events that led to its founding, its original purpose for being, or that its very existence is due to a woman named Hilla Rebay. At a time when abstract art held the least favor for American audiences and when the Societe Anonyme and Stieglitz associations were collapsing, Hilla Rebay fought passionately for the survival of what she termed "non-objective" art. Now almost three and a half decades later she is virtually forgotten. Rebay offered much to American Art of the twentieth century not only as patron, educator, museum director, and artist, but also as a bridge figure between European and American abstraction. With the exception of Joan Lukach's excellent and thorough biographic work on Rebay, the literature on Rebay is scant.

This book examines Rebay's contribution to American visual culture as artist and museum director from an art historical and critical perspective. This will demonstrate her importance as supporter of American abstraction through her position as founder of the Guggenheim Museum, as well as reveal her own accomplishments as an artist and identify some issues for later investigation. By re-examining Rebay this book renders a fuller sense of American Modernism's complexities in the period between the wars. This study is not intended as another laudatory narrative nor deconstructive critique, but rather a series of considerations and interpretations of the issues that pertain to Rebay's practices. In so doing, the authors hope to flesh out a fuller, more complete picture of the events and characteristics that composed the complex personality of this woman. They examine and explore the mutual impact that Rebay had on her era and vice versa. This study also offers the first comprehensive exploration of Rebay as an artist. It examines Rebay’s personal concept of philanthropy as well as her innovative role as museum founder, theorist and director while examining its repercussions on museology to this day. This book also shows for the first time Rebay's importance not only as founder-director of the Guggenheim but also as one of the earliest female Dadaist and "non-objective" artists who should have been recognized along with Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and other early pioneers.


“Anyone who is even marginally connected with Modem Art, American art history, museum studies, or women's studies should be aware of the crucial importance of Hilla Rebay to their field. Rebay embodies a unique conundrum in the history of art: most of her achievements and endeavors were done in someone else's name. Thus few people today realize that almost everything that we associate with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation: its original mission; its unparalleled collection of Central European and Early American modem art, including the third-largest collection of Kandinsky paintings in the world; its model for a museum that explicitly challenges the model of the Universal Survey Museum; and of course its landmark home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright are all the result of Rebay's efforts, even though the names of Guggenheim and Wright are the only ones the public knows … most scholars with a more than casual acquaintance with this era and its cultural history are also woefully uninformed about Rebay and her activities as a patron, museum director, and artist. This is due in large part to the artificially created lacuna in modem art scholarship under a general history that has for decades overlooked American art before Abstract Expressionism, favored the developments of the School of Paris over any other region, and generally ignored the efforts of most women. Therefore, to re-examine Rebay and her projects and context, is to resurrect many missing elements in the story of the 20th century … Drs.Vrachopoulos and Angeline wrote this book with an acute awareness of the existing literature, both past and future. They know of the previous monographic texts that have been written about Rebay, but they are also aware of the large exhibition catalogue that is being produced in conjunction with the upcoming Rebay retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. They have been careful to write a text that can stand entirely on its own and supply the fIrst-time reader with enough background to understand their larger points, but they have also avoided as much as possible the pitfalls of redundancy, ensuring that their text compliments the other literature, rather than competing with it. Therefore even those who think they know Rebay will learn something new and, more importantly, be given a new set of ideas with which to consider her.” – (from the Commendatory Foreword) Lisa Farrington, Ph.D., Senior Art Historian, Parsons School of Design/The New School in New York; Mellon, Magnet, and Ford Foundation Fellow, Consultant for The College Board's AP Art History program and author of numerous books on race and gender in the visual arts, including a textbook Creating Their Own Image (Oxford University Press)

“Dr. Thalia Vrachopoulos and Dr. John Angeline have collaborated on a book, which is a welcome contribution to the somewhat wanting literature surrounding the role of Hilla Rebay in the founding of the famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. While her role has clearly been documented, what is lacking is a clear and incisive interpretation, in terms of contemporary feminist theory, that articulates Ms. Rebay's enormous knowledge and passion with regard to some of the greatest masters of twentieth century art. Hilla Rebay's inventiveness, wit, and dexterity as an art connoisseur has much to offer us, not only from the perspective of the historical past, but from a present-day vantage point as well. It was essentially these qualities that attracted Mr. Guggenheim and that paved the way for his understanding of the European Modernists. There is little doubt that through the untiring efforts of Hilla Rebay, Guggenheim was inspired and motivated to bring major works into his collection, which eventually became the focus of his museum. Vrachopoulos's and Angeline's revisionist study serves as a much-needed interpretation of the breadth of Ms. Rebay's contribution to the history of American Modernism.” – Robert C. Morgan, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, History and Theory of Art, Rochester Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1.The "Woman" Question
2. Rebay as Artist
3. Rebay's American Scene
4. A Museum's Best-Laid Plans

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