Portraiture exhibitions in Miami and New York City
Having recently returned from New York where I saw two wonderful portraiture exhibitions I’ve been thinking a lot about portraiture lately, and the role it has played in the history of art. At the Neue Galerie, I saw Gustav Klimt’s portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 along with the numerous pencil drawing studies for the work; the subject of the documentary Stealing Klimts, shown last year at the Jewish Museum in Miami Beach and more recently the Hollywood version Woman in Gold.I have been a devotee of Klimt since I first saw his drawings in a small exhibition in Rome and later his masterpieces at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria. Visiting the works at the Neue Galerie felt like visiting old friends— the setting beyond comparison. At the Brooklyn Museum I saw Kehinde Wiley’s first major retrospective of his contemporary portraiture, A New Republic, another brilliant exhibition of portraits another artist whose work I have admired since seeing it on the Cover of Art in America in 2003.
Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power
The Boca Raton Museum of Art
April 21 through July 12, 2015
Throughout the ages, artists have been commissioned to create portraits of their patrons to hang in their homes usually in a distinguished location. Often, it was how artists supported themselves. While very common in the nineteenth century among the elite, highly realistic portraits in oil on canvas became less in-vogue after the introduction of the camera, which was able to more perfectly capture the countenance of the subject— an example of the camera as disruptive innovation. Today, commissioned portraits it seems have gone away, with the exception of the generic corporate “head shot” while family portraits in more relaxed settings seem to be more acceptable in contemporary society.Of course, it’s likely more than just technology that has taken its toll on portraiture; art has always been something of a luxury and the display of bejeweled art patrons might today be interpreted as flashy or self-aggrandizement. Today, major art collectors still exhibit their trophies but not in their likeness.
As I toured the Boca Museum of Art’s jewel of an exhibition of Helena Rubinstein’s collection assembled, Beauty as Power, I could not help but have the feeling of exaltation while viewing Portrait of Helena Rubinstein, 1934 by Marie Laurencin. There is something of the painting that is completely mesmerizing having nothing to do with its subject, Helena Rubinstein herself. You look at the painting and wonder what was the occasion commemorating the portrait, how did she decide what to wear, what significance does the scarf or the earrings she wears hold? Did she sit for the portrait or were photographs taken? Were any studies done prior to the final painting? Did she have any input into the final painting? In fact, one could create an entire fictional story each more interesting than the next about this portrait—if you had the inclination, that is.Helena Rubinstein, herself, was as interesting a person as any one of her portraits and confirms to me that it is the Art Collector who determines who the important artists of our time will be. I was amused to learn that prior to Helena Rubinstein, it was considered “vulgar” for women to wear make-up; that lipstick and rouge were for actresses and harlots. It was Helena Rubinstein, born in Krakow in 1872, who through her marketing efforts made it acceptable for middle class women to wear make-up allowing ordinary women to indulge themselves in their own beauty – fascinating piece of history.
The exhibition includes several vintage interviews of Rubinstein talking about her life in Poland and Australia before she ultimately moved to the United States at the dawn of the World War I. Listening to her speak in her very serious eastern European accent about cosmetics, I couldn’t help but smile — this is a woman who took herself quite seriously, regardless of what anyone else thought — a triumph of the human spirit.
Anthony Japour is an art collector and art advisor. Japour lectures on the Chinese Contemporary Art Movement and its relationship to the pillars of Western Contemporary Art. For over a decade [2002-2012], Japour mounted numerous art exhibitions and installations in Miami Beach and South Florida through AJ Japour Gallery and linked these exhibitions to charity events at his home in South Beach devoted to the health, education and welfare of children. Japour has served on the Fine Arts Board and the Cultural Arts Council of the City of Miami Beach. Japour has been a contributor writing on contemporary art for SocialMiami.com since 2010.