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Black Tie International:
Helena Rubinstein:  Beauty is Power

Helena Rubinstein with African mask, c. 1935. Helena Rubinstein Foundation archive, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York, Special Collections.  Photograph by George Maillard Kesslere

Helena Rubinstein with African mask, c. 1935. Helena Rubinstein Foundation archive, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York, Special Collections.  Photograph by George Maillard Kesslere.


OCTOBER 31, 2014 - MARCH 22, 2015

First Museum Exhibition to Focus On The
Innovative Cosmetics Entrepreneur and Art Collector


New York, NY - Beginning October 31, 2014, the Jewish Museum will present Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power, the first museum exhibition to explore the ideas, innovations, and enduring influence of the legendary cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965). By the time of her death, Rubinstein had risen from humble origins in small-town Jewish Poland to become a global icon-the head of a cosmetics empire extending across four continents. She was the first modern self-made woman magnate, an avatar of female entrepreneurship, and a tastemaker in the worlds of art, fashion, and design.
On view through March 22, 2015, the exhibition will explore how Helena  Rubinstein - as a businesswoman, arts patron, and one of the leading collectors of African and Oceanic art of her time - helped break down the status quo of taste by blurring boundaries between commerce, art, fashion, beauty, and design. Through works of art, photographs, and ephemera, Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power reveals how Rubinstein's unique style and pioneering approaches to business challenged conservative taste and heralded a modern notion of beauty, democratized and accessible to all.
The exhibition will reunite selections from Rubinstein's famed art collection, dispersed in 1966, featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Elie Nadelman, and Joan Miró, among others, as well as over thirty works from her peerless collection of African and Oceanic art - one of the most important private collections ever assembled. Other highlights include Madame's (as she was universally called) beloved miniature period rooms, jewelry, and clothing designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Paul Poiret. Rubinstein's savvy for self-promotion will on view via portraits she commissioned from leading artists of her time, from Marie Laurencin to Andy Warhol. Also on display will be advertisements, cosmetics products, and promotional materials related to her beauty business.
Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power takes its name from one of the first slogans Rubinstein employed to promote her early Valaze cosmetic line. 'Beauty is Power,' announced the headline of a print advertising campaign that first appeared in an Australian newspaper in 1904. Rubinstein's dictum suggested uncanny foresight. At the turn of the 20th century, cosmetics were associated with the painted faces of actresses and prostitutes, and were frowned upon by the middle class. Rubinstein, a model of independence and modernity, boldly confronted the parochial constraints faced by women at the time by advancing the notion that makeup could be a means of asserting female self-expression and identity.
Rubinstein founded her first beauty salon in Melbourne, Australia, in 1903, where she sold exotic-sounding creams such as Valaze to an eager clientele. Inspired by the tradition of European literary salons, she conceived of her beauty salons as intimate environments where progressive ideas were exchanged under the guidance of a sophisticated patroness. In the early years of the 20th century, Rubinstein opened salons in London and Paris, and soon brought her ideas of personal transformation and female empowerment to the United States.
Her first New York salon opened in 1915, in the wake of two revolutionary events there: the Armory Show of avant-garde European art in 1913, and a major rally for women's suffrage in 1911, where some women marched wearing lip rouge as a badge of emancipation. Rubinstein's salons embodied this alliance of creativity and self-determination, using art and fantasy to inspire her clientele to think independently.
Rubinstein pioneered the use of modernist display at her salons and numerous homes, collaborating with such artists, architects, and designers as Salvador Dalí and interior designer David Hicks to showcase her art and outlandish décor.
Helena Rubinstein rose improbably from modest beginnings in Eastern Europe to become a household name worldwide. By encouraging women to define themselves as self-expressive individuals, she contributed to their empowerment. Today we take such subjectivity for granted, but the sense of individuality and independence Rubinstein fostered was new and profound in the early 20th century.
Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power is organized by Mason Klein, Curator at the Jewish Museum, with Rebecca Shaykin, Leon Levy Assistant Curator.
Exhibition Catalogue
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Jewish Museum is publishing a 168-page catalogue by Mason Klein, distributed by Yale University Press. Mr. Klein concentrates on Helena Rubinstein as an art collector and patron as well as a titan of business. He explores her little-known role in integrating the notion of style--reflecting in her wide-ranging tastes--within the overarching culture and industry of beauty. In tracing how her brand name became associated with the woman herself, the book examines the various ways Rubinstein controlled and defined her remarkable image. Featuring 200 color and black-and-white illustrations, the hardcover book will be available worldwide and at the Jewish Museum's Cooper Shop for $50.00.
Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power is made possible by The Jerome L. Greene Foundation.
Major support is also provided by the Eugene M. and Emily Grant Family Foundation and The David Berg Foundation. Additional generous support is provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Roy and Niuta Titus Foundation, and the Helena Rubinstein Philanthropic Fund at The Miami Foundation.
The catalogue is made possible through the Dorot Publication Fund and a gift from Helena Rubinstein, L'Oréal Luxe.
About the Jewish Museum
Located on Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, the Jewish Museum is one of the world's preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, offering intellectually engaging, educational, and provocative exhibitions and programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of over 30,000 works of art, artifacts, and broadcast media reflecting global Jewish identity, and presents a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed temporary exhibitions.  
The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City. Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, 11am to 5:45pm; Thursday, 11am to 8pm; and Friday, 11am to 4pm.  Museum admission is $15.00 for adults, $12.00 for senior citizens, $7.50 for students, free for visitors 18 and under and Jewish Museum members.  Admission is Pay What You Wish on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm and free on Saturdays.  For information on the Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3200 or visit the website at

joyce brooks, gerard mckeon.  photo by:  rose billings

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