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Here, the Boss Herself Does the Painting
Press Reactions to the Exhibition "The Art of Tomorrow: Hilla von Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim"

With the show "The Art of Tomorrow", the Deutsche Guggenheim is honoring Hilla von Rebay’s achievements as an artist and curator. The exhibition offers an overview of her entire artistic oeuvre and demonstrates the considerable influence Rebay had on the rise of non-objective art. She won the American industrialist Solomon R. Guggenheim over for this "art of tomorro" and rose to founding director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Prior to the opening of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, however, the headstrong German baroness fell in disfavor. The exhibition space at Unter den Linden in Berlin is showing Rebay’s non-objective paintings, drawings, and collages together with important works by her friends Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Arp, and Kurt Schwitters . The press proved especially interested in Rebay’s personality and achievements as a curator, while her artistic works usually play no more than a limited role in the exhibition reviews.

In the Welt am Sonntag, "a late retribution" is what Dirk Krampitz calls "The Art of Tomorrow" at the Deutsche Guggenheim. "She wasn’t invited when her museum was opened in 1959 (…) the baroness had long since become a persona non grata. Now, the Guggenheim art empire is paying tribute to its founder in the museum at Unter den Linden." For Krampitz, Rebay’s significance lies in the fact that she moved Solomon R. Guggenheim to "begin an extensive collection of works and thus to bring modern art to America. (…) She had the instinct for art, and he had the money." Yet Krampitz does not mention a single word about Rebay’s own works.

For Ingeborg Ruthe from the Berliner Zeitung, as well, the "enthusiastic show" constitutes a rehabilitation of a "missionary of abstraction" who "promoted other, more talented artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Hans Arp, and Paul Klee with great passion. That’s what makes Hilla Rebay so great and unforgettable. She is a part of the Guggenheim family. The grandchildren have understood this – and taken action." Ruthe regards von Rebay’s artistic production with mixed feelings, however. "Hilla von Rebay’s own (…) works are rather mediocre – except for the poetic, bizarre watercolors and the fresh and funny little panels from the twenties." Yet despite this: “"he small Dadaist collages are very impressive."

More than anything else, Nicola Kuhn honors "The Stormy One", the title of her article in the Tagesspiegel, for her commitment to abstract art. "One of the most important collections of non-objective painting as well as the first clearly modern museum

building of contemporary times – the Guggenheim Museum – traces back (…) to her initiative." She compares Rebay’s immense influence with the current situation in the art establishment. "If you looked for a comparable figure today that is as close to a collector as she was, you’d quickly wind up with the dealers. (…) You’ll never find such a glittering figure and painter with the temperament of a storm trooper."

Inimitably, the BZ formulates Hilla von Rebay’s dual role as artist and founding director of the Guggenheim Museum in the headline of their article on the exhibition: "Here, the Boss Herself Does the Painting."

In the Berliner Morgenpost, Gabriela Walde calls "The Art of Tomorrow" a search for lost traces, because from the very beginning "Rebay’s own work disappeared behind her Guggenheim activities." While Hilla von Rebay is "not a first-rate artist" and her large oil paintings are "pretty much the works of an epigone (…) under Kandinsky’s powerful influence, who outdoes her in a single brushstroke", she nonetheless values "Hilla’s tiny collages, barely as big as a hand, that in their tremendous dynamics seem illuminated from within. Light, gay figurations that tumble across the paper, at times reminiscent of colored Japanese ink drawings in their grace of line. Or her dance sketches, in which she captures movement with a light hand. Rebay excels when she follows her own impulses and doesn’t try to approach the greats of her time like Kurt Schwitters or Hans-Jean Arp."

Brigitte Werneburg from the tageszeitung examines Rebay’s own works the most intensively. Her "great sensitivity for subtle color gradations and a much less developed sense of a clear and interesting division of the canvas into abstract formal elements often lend her paintings a fairly decorative character. Indeed, Rebay herself highly estimated the decorative as a valuable of non-objective art." More than anything else, Werneburg is interested in the drawings in which Rebay recorded the jazz clubs of Harlem. "A touch of Berlin, where she moved to in 1913, can be felt in the almost caricature-like expressions of the black faces and bodies, reminiscent of her watercolors of the Ballet Russes from 1910, but also of Dix and Grosz. Perhaps there’s another connection to be found here if one considers that this kind of expression could have provided the African American artist Kara Walker with an art historical basis for her bitter silhouettes."