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The Dream of Non-Objectivity
"The Art of Tomorrow" marks the rediscovery of Hilla von Rebay as artist and curator

"The Art of Tomorrow" is the title of the 1939 exhibition in which the Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection introduced itself to the New York public for the first time. The woman behind the collection was a baroness from Germany; a close advisor to Guggenheim, Hilla von Rebay tirelessly worked towards promoting non-objective art. The founding director of the Guggenheim Museum, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, had long since been forgotten; her work as a curator and an artist has now been rediscovered. Achim Drucks introduces "The Art of Tomorrow – Hilla von Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim" at the Deutsche Guggenheim.

Hilla von Rebay in her studio
Kurfürstendamm 136, Berlin around 1913
©The Hilla von Rebay Foundation.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved

"The breath of happiness is red," wrote Frank Lloyd Wright in 1945; he was referring to his vision for the outdoor color of his planned Guggenheim Museum in New York, which he intended to be an "Archiseum" – the perfect blend of avant-garde architecture and avant-garde art. For Hilla von Rebay, however, this breath was a lighter one, the red too "materialistic," and she asked whether they couldn’t have yellow marble, or at least green. Hilla von Rebay is not only responsible for the fact that 15 years later the Guggenheim went down in history as a brilliant white spiral form; the modernist was a woman and an artist – and a highly resolute one, to be sure. It was the German baroness who first dreamed of a "temple of non-objective art" and who won over the likes of the "Copper King" and collector Solomon R. Guggenheim for its realization. She was the one who wrote to the star architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1943 to say that she felt each of the Guggenheim’s abstract masterpieces needed its own space and that only he, Wright, could "work this out. The words she wrote at the time to a brother in spirit could also have described her own character: "I need a fighter, a lover of space, an agitator, a tester…"

Hilla von Rebay
Freude, n.d.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo David Heald
©The Hilla von Rebay Foundation.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved

Hilla Rebay, Ohne Titel, n.d.
Photo : David Heald
©The Hilla von Rebay Foundation.
Used by permission. All rights reserved

When the museum was finally opened in 1959, ten years after Guggenheim’s death, von Rebay wasn’t present. The museum’s founding director hadn’t even been invited; the independent-minded baroness had been disempowered following Solomon R. Guggenheim’s death. Due to growing criticism of her authoritarian style of leadership, she’d already had to relinquish her position on the foundation’s board in 1952; this, together with her ill health, led her to retreat to her homes in Connecticut and New Hampshire, where she disappeared almost completely from public awareness until her death in 1967. But now she has been rediscovered with the exhibition The Art of Tomorrow – Hilla von Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim – both as a curator and as an artist.

Following its premiere at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and subsequent stations in Munich and Murnau, the show, supported by Deutsche Bank, can now be seen at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. The Art of Tomorrow shows von Rebay’s watercolors, drawings, and collages as well as her non-objective paintings; her portrait of Solomon R. Guggenheim, commissioned in 1928, can also be seen, during the making of which the German artist got to know the American patron. The works are juxtaposed with the works of friends and colleagues that inspired von Rebay to dedicate herself to the art of an emerging Modernism: Jean Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Hans Richter, and of course the love of her life – Rudolf Bauer, with whom she had an unhappy relationship for many years.

Wassily Kandinsky,
Ein Zentrum, November-Dezember 1924
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,
Gift, Solomon R. Guggenheim,
On extended loan to Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Photo: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Von Rebay met the artist for the first time in 1916 at the avant-garde Berlin gallery Der Sturm, where she had gone to see a Kandinsky exhibition. The dandy in a dark velvet suit, a Kandinsky epigone and passionate advocate of non-objective art, drew her completely under his spell. To the day she died, Rebay, the dedicated friend and patron that she was, considered Bauer to be a misunderstood genius and the truly most important representative of this new direction in art. She succeeded in convincing Solomon Guggenheim of Bauer’s qualities, and Guggenheim bought – the inventory catalogue of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, the precursor to the Guggenheim, lists 104 works by Kandinsky, and a total of 215 by Bauer.

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