First Museum Exhibition to Focus on the
Innovative Cosmetics Entrepreneur and Art Collector
New York, NY – Beginning October 31, 2014, the Jewish Museum will present Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power, the first museum exhibition to explore the ideas, innovations, and enduring influence of the legendary cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965). By the time of her death, Rubinstein had risen from humble origins in small-town Jewish Poland to become a global icon – the head of a cosmetics empire extending across four continents. She was the first modern self-made woman magnate, an avatar of female entrepreneurship, and a tastemaker in the worlds of art, fashion, and design.
On view through March 22, 2015, the exhibition will explore how Helena Rubinstein – as a businesswoman, arts patron, and one of the leading collectors of African and Oceanic art of her time – helped break down the status quo of taste by blurring boundaries between commerce, art, fashion, beauty, and design. Through works of art, photographs, and ephemera, Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power reveals how Rubinstein’s unique style and pioneering approaches to business challenged conservative taste and heralded a modern notion of beauty, democratized and accessible to all.
The exhibition will reunite selections from Rubinstein’s famed art collection, dispersed in 1966, featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Elie Nadelman, and Joan Miró, among others, as well as over thirty works from her peerless collection of African and Oceanic art – one of the most important private collections ever assembled. Other highlights include Madame’s (as she was universally called) beloved miniature period rooms, jewelry, and clothing designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Paul Poiret. Rubinstein’s savvy for self-promotion will on view via portraits she commissioned from leading artists of her time, from Marie Laurencin to Andy Warhol. Also on display will be advertisements, cosmetics products, and promotional materials related to her beauty business.
Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power takes its name from one of the first slogans Rubinstein employed to promote her early Valaze cosmetic line. ‘Beauty is Power,’ announced the headline of a print advertising campaign that first appeared in an Australian newspaper in 1904. Rubinstein’s dictum suggested uncanny foresight. At the turn of the 20th century, cosmetics were associated with the painted faces of actresses and prostitutes, and were frowned upon by the middle class. Rubinstein, a model of independence and modernity, boldly confronted the parochial constraints faced by women at the time by advancing the notion that makeup could be a means of asserting female self-expression and identity.
Rubinstein founded her first beauty salon in Melbourne, Australia, in 1903, where she sold exotic-sounding creams such as Valaze to an eager clientele. Inspired by the tradition of European literary salons, she conceived of her beauty salons as intimate environments where progressive ideas were exchanged under the guidance of a sophisticated patroness. In the early years of the 20th century, Rubinstein opened salons in London and Paris, and soon brought her ideas of personal transformation and female empowerment to the United States.