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ART IN REVIEW

Four Non-Objective Painters

 

By GRACE GLUECK

Published: December 22, 2000


Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery
41 East 57th Street
Through Jan. 6

 

Hilla Rebay (1890-1967) and Rudolf Bauer (1889-1953), German-born artists who were once lovers, are the stars of this four-person show, which also rather pointlessly includes the Americans John Ferren and Balcomb Greene. Rebay, at one time an art world legend, though a controversial one, was Solomon R. Guggenheim's chief art adviser starting in the late 1920's.

Better known for her promotional activities on behalf of Non-Objective art than as a painter, Rebay was a founder and the first director of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which evolved into the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. She served as its first director, from 1937 to 1952. In 1939 she brought Bauer, a painter of weak talent who was strongly influenced by Kandinsky, to the United States as ''the German leader of the Non-Objective School'' and championed his work at the Guggenheim, with the backing of Solomon R. himself.

''Non-Objective'' was a term invented by Kandinsky to describe an art with no immediate reference to objects seen in nature. It differed from abstraction in that it was totally invented rather than derived from real-world sources. For Kandinsky, as well as Rebay and Bauer, it had a spiritual basis grounded in the mystical belief of theosophy, which saw art as an intuitive form of religious expression.

In this show, Bauer's work, with its spirited Kandinsky-esque collisions of form and color, actually looks more weighty than Rebay's. ''Con Brio 9'' (1918), for example, is a maelstrom of thrusting lines and biomorphic forms with a womblike center; its thundering reds and blacks add to its impact.

Rebay's work is quieter. In ''Sonderbar'' (1935-45) she fills the entire canvas with brightly colored geometric forms countered by a surface smattering of black calligraphic squiggles. And she sometimes turns, surprisingly, to representation, as in a collage from the 1930's: a figure of a woman whose dress is collaged with cutouts from paper lace doilies.

Not to be overlooked is ''Berlin at Night,'' a small show in another room devoted to mildly naughty drawings by Bauer, who before his Non-Objective period had a successful career as a caricaturist for satirical German magazines. Sexy, crudely jokey scenes of men and women out on the town, done between 1910 and 1927, evoke the spirit of ''Cabaret'' but with none of its sinister overtones.

GRACE GLUECK

 

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