Like all artist-endowed foundations, the Dedalus Foundation, which Robert Motherwell established in 1981, is committed to preserving its founder’s artistic legacy. But Motherwell wanted his foundation to have a broader remit, that of fostering public understanding and appreciation of the principles of modern art and modernism. And for Motherwell, modernism was not limited simply to a certain range of artistic styles; it was part of an attitude toward life, a way of probing the nature of reality, and of creating what he called “shaped meaning, without which no life is worth living.”
In addition to its Motherwell legacy programs, which include catalogues raisonnés of Motherwell’s work and support for exhibitions and publications about him and his work, the foundation generates programs in other areas as they relate to modern art and modernism. These include Research and Publications, Archives and Conservation, Curatorial and Exhibitions, and Arts Education—which is currently our largest program.
Our emphasis on Arts Education follows Motherwell’s own deep commitment to educating people about modern art—which he did in a number of ways, and with great zeal and imagination. In 1944, he founded the Documents of Modern Art series (later renamed the Documents of Twentieth Century Art), which made the ideas of the great European modernists available to young American artists and students. A few years later he co-founded, along with Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, a school called The Subjects of the Artist. And from 1951 to 1959, he was the driving force behind the art department at Hunter College, where he developed a radically new kind of curriculum—later broadly imitated—which placed greater emphasis on self-realization than on traditional technical skills. Even after he left the Hunter faculty, Motherwell lectured widely at museums and universities, as a way of expressing to young artists his commitment both to modernism and to the importance of self-realization. People who heard him lecture during those years still talk admiringly about the passion, commitment, and inspiration he conveyed to his audiences.
So the Dedalus Foundation’s extensive educational programs are not only a way for us to serve the public, but also another means of honoring and perpetuating an important aspect of Motherwell’s legacy.
Our various educational programs relate to the public in two different ways, which can be characterized as outward-facing and internal. Our outward-facing programs address a broad general public. They include lectures and panels on a wide variety of subjects, often in collaboration with other institutions. We have recently done public programs with groups as varied as the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association, Art Beyond Sight, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. We have also organized panels on timely subjects with recipients of the Dedalus Fellowships that we have been sponsoring for nearly twenty years at the Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center and the Museum of Modern Art Archives. Three of our most recent panels focused on the issues raised by posthumous casts of sculpture, on the problems raised by the reinstallation of Conceptual and Installation Art, and on making distinctions between archival materials and works of art. We also have had a long-standing portfolio scholarship program for graduating seniors from New York City public high schools, which is accompanied by an exhibition of their work.
What I’m calling our “internal” programs also take several different forms, most of which are operated from our facility at Industry City in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn. We have dedicated classrooms there, where we offer free art classes for children and adults, and family-oriented classes where parents create art along with their children. For these classes, we engage practicing artists and supply all materials free of charge. We also offer portfolio preparation classes for Middle School students hoping to be admitted to specialized art High Schools, and for High School students who want to study art at top-level colleges and art schools. Some of our “internal” programs are done in collaboration with other organizations, such as Turning Point Brooklyn and the Center for Family Life, and with educational programs that encourage inclusiveness, such as the Oliver Scholars.
In all of our educational programs, we encourage the participation of people from all the diverse communities in New York City, and we seek to provide a combination of historical and cultural awareness, aesthetic discernment, and relevance to contemporary life. We place great emphasis on the quality of each participant’s individual experience, and on conveying the ways in which art can provide an important aspect of self-realization.
Within the context of the Dedalus Foundation’s goal of fostering public understanding and appreciation of modern art and modernism, our educational programs occupy a very special place. They provide us with a way of extending our reach beyond the bounds of the art community per se, and to find ways in which we can actually make people’s lives better through art.
JACK FLAM is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art and Art History at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and the CEO and President of the Dedalus Foundation.