The Following text, highlighting Hilla Rebay, was recently (July 2005) found on the Guggenheim Museum Web-Site. Penrod Centurion is mentioned near the end of the article, his work being among that displayed at the openning of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. It is unclear to this writer whether Penrod Centurion is represented in a contemporary exhibit.
- Exhibitions -
Art of Tomorrow:
Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim
The German-born Hilla Rebay (1890–1967) was a prolific artist who obtained a solid academic training as a portrait and figure painter. Having initially secured portrait commissions in order to make a living, Rebay would later devote herself to non-objective painting—art without representational links to the material world—which she considered to be the most superior form of art. Belief in the spirituality of art and its educational powers, as well as the force of intuition, guided her throughout her life.
Thanks especially to her friends the artists Hans Richter and Jean Arp, Rebay explored new and radical directions in painting in the 1910s and early 1920s. Arp gave Rebay a copy of Vasily Kandinsky's seminal treatise On the Spiritual in Art (1911) and the almanac Der Blaue Reiter. He introduced her to the Dada movement in Zurich and to Herwarth Walden, the influential owner of the avant-garde Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin. There, as an active participant in the avant-garde, Rebay exhibited on several occasions and had the opportunity to create woodcuts for covers of the gallery's journals and catalogues. At Galerie Der Sturm, Rebay also met the artist Rudolf Bauer, whom she considered to be the foremost exponent of non-objective painting, and entered into a long but often difficult relationship with him. Also thanks to Arp, with whom Rebay had an intimate relationship before meeting Bauer, she discovered paper collage, a medium in which she would particularly excel. This medium enabled her to handle line more freely and to experiment with rhythm and the balance of forms.
Throughout her long career from the 1910s through the 1960s, Rebay exhibited in museums and commercial galleries in Europe and the United States and produced a large array of both figurative and non-objective works, many on view in this exhibition. Her figurative works include formal portraits, such as those of Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861–1949), Arp, Bauer, and Richter; early drawings and watercolors of dancers and musicians; as well as intricate and lively collages of female figures and exotic characters. Dance and music were particularly meaningful to Rebay, and she often chose musical titles for her works. Although figurative works provided Rebay with a source of income in her early years in New York, it was non-objective art that she preferred and to which she would dedicate the rest of her life. Non-objective works in the exhibition include small, dynamic watercolors, complex collages comprised of a multitude of cut and pasted papers, and vibrant paintings—all conveying Rebay's singular commitment to creations free of the empirical world and dedicated to the infinite possibilities of pure color, line, and space within a spiritual cosmos.
After Rebay moved to America in January 1927, she was commissioned by Guggenheim to paint his portrait. At this time, she began her steadfast mission to encourage the wealthy industrialist to collect the art she so fervently supported. Rebay introduced him to Kandinsky, and with her encouragement, he purchased over 150 of the artist's works, in addition to many others by abstract and non-objective artists for his growing collection of modern art, including Bauer, Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Fernand Léger, László Moholy-Nagy. Exhibitions of Guggenheim's collection were organized by Rebay in Charleston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In 1937 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was established for the "promotion and encouragement and education in art and the enlightenment of the public," and Guggenheim began to envision the construction of a museum to house his magnificent collection. In 1939 he rented a building on East 54th Street in Manhattan, which Rebay transformed into an exhibition space for the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (the name of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum until 1952). It was there that much of Guggenheim's collection was introduced to a New York audience for the first time, and the museum became a great success with New York's art community, particularly the young generation of American abstract artists. As a "temple" to non-objectivity, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting—at 54th Street and at its next location in a townhouse at 1071 Fifth Avenue—offered a special atmosphere in which to view art.
A fiercely independent woman of impressive energy and determination, Rebay organized ambitious exhibitions at the museum and around the United States, purchased numerous works for the ever-expanding collection, gave lectures, wrote essays, published and distributed catalogues and study prints in order to encourage knowledge and understanding of non-objective painting, and also supported artists through funds and scholarships. In 1943 Rebay contacted architect Frank Lloyd Wright—in whom she perceived a kindred spirit in matters of art and spirituality—to design the museum of her dreams, a "temple" to non-objectivity. The building would finally open in October 1959, ten years after Guggenheim's death, just six months after Wright's own death, and several years after Rebay had resigned from the museum.
Rebay described Guggenheim as a spiritually gifted collector. The extraordinary collaboration between them resulted in one of the world's finest collections of early twentieth-century modernism and attests to the insight and prescience of its founders. This accomplishment was expressed above all through Art of Tomorrow, the 1939 exhibition that inaugurated the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. The present exhibition features important European and American paintings—including works by Bauer, Penrod Centurion, John Ferren, Juan Gris, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Léger, Moholy-Nagy, Otto Nebel, Ben Nicholson, Pablo Picasso, Rolph Scarlett, Georges Valmier, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, and Jean Xceron—that were collected by Guggenheim under Rebay's guidance and included in the Art of Tomorrow
—Karole Vail, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, and Brigitte Salmen
catalogue published in 1939.
© 2005 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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