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 Rudolf Bauer  (1889 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: New York / Germany      Known for: abstract non objective painting

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Ad Code: 2
Rudolf Bauer
from Auction House Records.
Triptych-Symphony: Third Movement.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Rudolf Bauer (1889-1953) was one of the originators of non-objective painting. This particular brand of abstraction emphasized total absence of forms relating to the objective world. Bauer was born in Lindenwald, Germany (now Poland) and took up art-making from an early age. He began supporting himself as a cartoonist and caricaturist, publishing works in the popular magazines of the day, which he would do off and on until the mid-1920s.

Around 1915 he became involved in Der Sturm, a magazine and gallery run by Herwarth Walden. Walden promoted Bauer’s work alongside the work of Vasily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Marc Chagall, among others. He also met Hilla Rebay, a baroness and fellow artist, through Der Sturm. Their lifelong relationship—at first romantic and then platonic and business-oriented—would be the defining partnership of their lives. In 1927 Rebay moved to New York, and a year later made the acquaintance of copper magnate Solomon R. Guggenheim. Rebay exposed Guggenheim to non-objective art. He decided to start a non-objective collection, which came to include over 200 works by Bauer alone. Bauer also became Guggenheim’s main contact in Europe for purchasing works by other artists, such as Kandinsky, Chagall, Marc, Léger, and others. Bauer simultaneously in Berlin had founded a museum, Das Geistreich, or the “Realm of the Spirit,” to house work by himself and other artists. However, as the political situation in Germany changed, the financial viability of this gallery lessened, and Bauer became increasingly dependent on Guggenheim.

In 1936 Bauer traveled to the United States to attend the first museum exhibition of Guggenheim’s collection. He also became convinced that Guggenheim was the right person to provide the one thing he had always wanted for his art: a permanent home where his body of work could be seen together. In 1938 Bauer, who had chosen to stay in Germany despite the deteriorating political situation, was arrested by the Gestapo and thrown into a Nazi prison. Eventually, through the financial and political influence of Guggenheim and Rebay, Bauer was released. He emigrated to the United States in 1939, just following the opening of the first permanent home of Guggenheim’s collection: The Museum of Non-Objective Painting, on 54th Street in New York.

At the end of that year, wanting to clear up his debts with Guggenheim, Bauer signed a contract for which he traded over 100 works he had not yet been paid for as well as all his future “output” for a house in Deal, New Jersey; a Duesenberg auto body; and a monthly stipend of $1500.  This contract, which was not what he was told he was agreeing to, eventually broke Bauer as he saw that he furthermore would have no control in the running of the museum that housed all his work.  He never painted again, and increasingly isolated himself from Rebay and Guggenheim.  After Guggenheim died in 1949, Rebay was asked to step down as curator, and the new trustees abandoned Guggenheim’s non-objective goals.  When the now-iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened in 1959, Bauer’s work, along with other non-objective artists, was banished to the basement.  Recently though Bauer’s work and reputation has been resuscitated, beginning with solo shows in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, and finally it is being shown again on the Guggenheim walls, in 2005 in the Art of Tomorrow exhibition and in 2007 in the Founding Collection.  In 2007 a major retrospective took place at Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco.

Written and submitted by Jasmine Moorhead, Art Researcher

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Rudolf Bauer was an artist whose brief fame was much dependent upon his relationship with New York abstract artist, Hilla Rebay, the founder of the Museum of Non Objective Painting, which was later named the Guggenheim Museum.  In Berlin, thanks to the help of Rebay, he had a gallery, which he opened in 1930 but closed in 1932.

Because of Rebay's influence, personnel of the Guggenheim Museum secured his immigration to New York City in 1939.

Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Wendt Gallery:
Rudolf Bauer remains one of the great under—appreciated, non-objective*, modernism painters of the 20th Century.  Lawrence Campbell in his 1970 ArtNews article "Do You Remember Rudolf Bauer?" paints a favorable picture of the artist whose career in America was established and then summarily abandoned by the Guggenheim Museum.  To quote Campbell, "In 1952, The Museum of Non—Objective Painting disappeared.  Baroness Rebay, that passionate prima donna of the museum, retired.  Soon after, a new Director, James Johnson Sweeney, took over, and the Museum became the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  As for the Rudolf Bauer paintings, they vanished without a tear into the storerooms of the museum." 

Rudolf Bauer was born in 1889 in Lindenwald, Germany (now Poland) and was the son of an engineer.  By 1910 he had completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, and was a published cartoonist doing often comical illustrations for local publications.  In 1912 Bauer met the art dealer and promoter of the avant—garde, Herwarth Walden, whose Der Sturm (The Storm) Gallery, Newspaper and Art School would soon be the avant—garde focus of the Berlin art scene.  In subsequent years, Der Sturm would host solo exhibitions for Kandinsky, Bauer, Klee, Chagall, Leger, Franz Marc and many others.

In 1915 Bauer was accepted as a member of Der Sturm, and began a long tenure of exhibiting, publishing and teaching with Walden.  That same year he met the 25 year old Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen, the daughter of an aristocratic Prussian officer.  They soon moved in together, much to the dismay of Rebay's parents.  During this period, Bauer shared with Rebay his dream to create a temple of Non—Objective art.  These ideas are related to the vision that Walter Gropius had for his Weimar Bauhaus art school.  In a lecture delivered by Gropius for the Exhibition of Unknown Architects, the architect discussed how artists of all media would co—operatively build a metaphorical cathedral of the future. 

It would take 30 years and a combination of Rebay's tenacity and Guggenheim's funding to realize Bauer's dream.

In 1921 Bauer's work was introduced to American audiences as a featured artist of Katherine Dreiers and Marcel Duchamp's Societé Anonyme*.  Well into the 1940s Dreier would correspond with Bauer asking him to donate more material to the Society.  Either because of his restrictive relationship with the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, or because of Dreier's lack of funds, Bauer paid little attention to her requests.  Despite his lack of attention Dreier remained a passionate admirer of Bauer's work.  That same year Bauer was invited to publish a lithograph in the Bauhaus* portfolio, and he contributed a lovely black and white non—objective image.

The Bauhaus portfolio from that year is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum or Art in New York City.  By 1929 Rudolf Bauer was firmly established as Solomon Guggenheim's favorite artist and his man in Berlin.  The 40 year old painter was no longer living hand to mouth but had begun to sell his works in quantity.  In addition to creating his own work, Bauer was instrumental in choosing the works that today are considered the masterpieces of the core Guggenheim collection.

Works by Kandinsky, especially early non—objective works, Klee, Marc, Moholy—Nagy, Chagall, Leger and many others were collected during this period.  In 1930 Rebay organized a trip to Europe for the Guggenheims so that they would have the opportunity to meet the great Bauer and Kandinsky in person.  This trip was a huge success, reducing Bauer's power and locking in Rebay's position as art advisor to Guggenheim by letting him choose the work himself —in person in the artists studios.  With the commissions from these sales, Bauer was able to lease a villa in a fashionable area of Berlin and set up his own private museum, called "Das Geistreich," or the Realm of the Spirit, in which he featured primarily his work and that of Kandinsky.

Marinetti, the Italian Futurist* painter, visited Das Geistreich to inaugurate one of the exhibitions and a professional photographer was employed to document the event.  Bauer drove fancy cars, and for nearly a decade lived in the style of Guggenheim.  In 1933, Bauer was included in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  During this period Rebay began a frenzy of buying activity in order to save paintings from falling into Nazi hands or from being destroyed.  Her efforts, with the help of Bauer, provided Jewish and other fleeing collectors with badly needed capital, which facilitated their escape from Germany.

In 1937, Bauer visited the United States for the first time to attend an exhibition of the Guggenheim collection at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, an area where the Guggenheims spent the winter.  This was one stop on a tour of five exhibitions that Rebay organized during the 1930s of the Solomon Guggenheim Collection of Non—Objective Art.

After an extended stay that generated a huge amount of press, Bauer returned to Europe because he was included in a large group exhibition of Modern Art organized by Picasso and Braque and mounted at the Jeu de Paume in Paris.  Bauer was warned by friends that the situation in Berlin was deteriorating and that because of the "Degenerate Art"* exhibition mounted by the Nazi's that same year he should remain in Paris.  The artist ignored this advice and returned to his beloved "Das Geistreich".  A few months later he was arrested by the Nazi's who hauled him off to a Berlin prison.  According to the documentarian Sigrid Faltin, it is possible that Bauer was actually fingered by his sister who was jealous of his success and lack of support.

The Baroness was distraught when she got the news and immediately began planning his rescue.  It took her nearly a year to execute her rescue plan.  And it is fair to relate that there were advisors who suggested that Rebay was better off with Bauer in a Berlin prison than at the Foundation in New York.

In 1939, traveling with a suitcase filled with cash and escorted by her uncle who was a General in the German Army, the Baroness was able to purchase Bauer's unconditional release and deportation to the United States with his entire household and studio intact.  It is also rumored that Marinetti, who had the ear of Mussolini, also put in a good word for the incarcerated artist.  Bauer arrived in New York a conquering hero of the art world, with invitations to lecture on Non—Objective Art at both Harvard and Yale.

The glow of triumph would be short lived.  Three issues began to poison the triad of Rebay, Bauer and Guggenheim.  First, Rebay, who had grown accustomed to wielding supreme executive authority at the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, had absolutely no intention of sharing the directorship with Bauer.  Second, she persuaded Bauer to sign the now infamous 'contract' before it was translated from English to German.  In short, the contract stipulated that Bauer would gift his life's work to the Foundation in return for use of the Guggenheim Villa in Deal, New Jersey, and for the use of the interest of a trust fund set up for Bauer which would revert back to the Foundation upon the artist's death. Bauer was so infuriated by the terms and so humiliated by his own foolishness at trusting Rebay that, in protest, he gave up painting.

He devoted the remainder of his life, unsuccessfully, trying to protect the legacy he left in the hands the Guggenheim Foundation.  It has taken over 50 years and courageous efforts from dealers, independent curators and various members of the Rebay and Guggenheim families to begin to right the wrongs that were suffered by the artists collectively known as the Art of Tomorrow Group.  Each exhibition which includes this work provides a new opportunity to reexamine an extraordinary period in the history of Modern Art.

Written by Steven Lowy, Curator of the Rudolf Bauer Collection

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

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