ART IN REVIEW
Rudolf Bauer, Hilla Rebay, Rolph Scarlett and the Museum of Non-Objective Painting
By KEN JOHNSON
Published: May 16, 2003
Gary Snyder Fine Art
601 West 29th Street, Chelsea
Through May 31
If Baroness Hilla Rebay is remembered at all, it's as a bad Kandinsky imitator and a grandiose, self-promoting busybody. While it's true that Rebay, a wealthy German expatriate, was not an original painter, as founding director of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, the first incarnation of the Guggenheim, her impact on modern art in America was incalculable. Yet when the Guggenheim sold paintings from its collection in the 1990's, among them were works from its original collection by Rebay as well as by Rudolf Bauer, her onetime lover and mentor, and Rolph Scarlett, for whom Rebay obtained Guggenheim patronage.
The surprise of this exhibition is that Rebay was actually not such a bad painter. While Bauer's and Scarlett's canvases remain accomplished but dull imitations of Kandinsky's late style, Rebay added to Kandinsky's cosmic geometry a loopy, rough expressionism of her own. The best part of the exhibition is a survey of Rebay's works on paper, including early portraits, illustrative pictures of dancers, Modernist dress designs, postcard-like travel pictures and collages made of sinuous pieces of cut paper.
Rebay was at least competent in all these modes, but the section devoted to small, abstract watercolors is unequivocally fine. Made under the influence of Klee as well as Kandinsky, in jewel-bright colors, the swirling, expressionistic compositions, densely hatched surrealistic abstractions and luminous grid paintings have a richly worked intensity that belies any suspicion that Rebay was just faking it.
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