This is the very first museum exhibition to focus on cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein, one of the leading collectors of avant-garde art and African sculpture in the early twentieth century.
The exhibition will highlight her unique collection as well as explore the radical use of modernist display in her world famous beauty salons -featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí, Constantin Brancusi, Elie Nadelman, and Joan Miro, among others, as well as outstanding examples of African art.
This exhibition is being organized by Mason Klein, Ph.D., Curator of Fine Arts at The Jewish Museum, New York. His recent exhibitions include The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936–1951 (2011), Alias Man Ray (2009), and Modigliani: Beyond the Myth (2004).
Today we take for granted the interrelatedness of modern art, interior design, and fashion, as well as the idea of beauty as a form of personal expression. This unique exhibition will illuminate how Rubenstein redefined the status quo, joining modern art and design with commerce to promote a revolutionary new understanding of beauty: personal, modern, and egalitarian.
“Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” is the first museum exhibition to focus on renowned cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein- as businesswoman, arts patron, and one of the leading collectors of avant-garde and African art of her time—blurring the boundaries between commerce, modern art, fashion, beauty, and design.
Rubinstein, the world’s first self-made female millionaire, enjoyed international renown and a sixty-year reign as “Madame.” Born in 1872 in Krakow, Poland to an egg merchant, Rubinstein built an empire by promising transformation and enticing customers with products labeled with exotic, made-up names like Valaze. She melded commerce and aesthetics in a new kind of accessible space—a salon with a modernist sensibility. With successful establishments in Sydney, London, and Paris, Rubinstein brought her ideas of personal improvement and female empowerment to the U.S.
Rubinstein’s enterprise was guided by the principle that average women desired self-transformation. Inspired by the tradition of European salons, she conceived the “beauty salon” as an intimate environment where progressive ideas were exchanged under the guidance of a sophisticated patroness. Rubinstein opened her first New York salon in 1915, in the wake of two revolutionary modernist events: the Armory Show of avant-garde European art and the Suffragette Movement at whose rallies women wore lip rouge as a badge of honor. Her salon embodied this conjunction of creativity and self-determination, using art and fantasy to inspire her clientele to think independently.
“Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” will reveal—through artworks, photographs, and ephemera—how Madame Rubinstein’s innovative business methods and unique style challenged conservative taste and ushered in a modern notion of beauty: democratized and accessible. Much of her famed art collection, which was globally dispersed at auction in 1966, will be reunited for the exhibition, including works by Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Elie Nadelman, and Frida Kahlo, as well as her iconic collection of African art. Other highlights include a selection of her collection of miniature period rooms, exotic jewelry, and couture by Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, and Poiret. The exhibition will study Rubinstein’s exploration of ethnic and stylistic diversity and how it challenged the notion of ideal beauty.
There are no ugly women, only lazy ones. — Helena Rubinstein
Rubinstein pioneered the use of modernist display at her salons and numerous homes, collaborating with architects and interior designers to showcase her art and outlandish décor. These environments reflected an eccentric aesthetic that was deeply influenced by Surrealism. Her New York City apartment, for example, featured murals painted by Salvador Dalí. The exhibition will also document her salon, comprised of numerous rooms each decorated differently: from dark-blue velvet-covered walls; to an exotic Chinese-stylized room; to one dedicated to Louis XVI.
“Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” will illustrate Madame’s genius for marketing both her products and her image as a tastemaker. Packaging and magazine ads for her cosmetics were influenced by modern art and design. Her salon windows cleverly capitalized on contemporary museum exhibitions or incorporated avant-garde art, such as Man Ray’s painting of disembodied lips promoting a new line of lipsticks. Her savvy for self-promotion will be seen in the dozens of portraits she commissioned by Salvador Dalí, Graham Sutherland, Marie Laurencin, and others.