The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.,
Thursday – Sunday, $12-$15 (pay-what-you-wish Thursdays from 5:00 to 8:00, Saturdays free 11:00 to 5:45),
“Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” is more than just a bountiful look into the art collection of the legendary entrepreneur; it’s a wonderfully curated examination of an Eastern European immigrant who lived the American dream — and was determined to share it with as many women as she could. “When Helena Rubinstein died in 1965, age 92, she was still in sole command of her global cosmetics empire and still very much a force in the world of fashion, style, and image,” curator Mason Klein writes in the exhibition catalog. “By the time of her death, she had salons in cities worldwide and homes in London, Paris, New York, the south of France, and Greenwich, Connecticut, all but the last functioning as showcases for her decorative fantasies, replete with swelling and rotating collections. She had influenced generations of women, not only in terms of self-image, but also as a role model of individuality.” Born in Poland on Christmas Day, 1872, Rubinstein, the oldest child of a Kraków shopkeeper and a housewife, built a massively successful business that spread around the world, selling cosmetics that showed women of all means that they could be beautiful — an inner and outer beauty they could use to better their place in life.
The exhibit consists of approximately two hundred objects, from paintings, drawings, and sculptures Madame, as she was known, collected in addition to photographs, print advertisements, promotional film clips, excerpts from television interviews, jewelry, cosmetics, and personal paraphernalia that reveal her impact as an international tastemaker. On view are works by Elie Nadelman, Frida Kahlo, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, and others, highlighted by a series of drawings of Madame done by Pablo Picasso and a wall of portraits of her through the years by such artists as Marie Laurencin and Andy Warhol. There’s also an ample display of her love of African and Oceanic sculpture, as well as exquisite, elegant miniature rooms. Rubinstein’s salons were not just a place of physical transformation but also a welcoming space where women could come and discuss art, literature, fashion, and the modern world, putting them on a par with men. “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones,” Rubinstein famously said. She also claimed, “Beauty is power,” a way of life for her, as this exhibition so thoroughly proves.