"Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power" at the Jewish Museum

Helena Rubinstein at the Jewish Museum

I went yesterday to the Jewish Museum to see the exhibition Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power. Although it showed a wonderful array of the artwork collected by Rubinstein throughout her life––including some beautiful portraits of her by the most relevant artists of her time, amazing sculptures from Gabon, and a few of her miniature rooms, which I totally want to have in my home—I must say that the exhibition was far less than I expected.

I arrived to the exhibition because I have to write a review about it as part of my Fashion History coursework… So I did expect some fashion. And although the exhibition contained a wonderful Bolero jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli—which is probably one of my favourite garments from the designer, only because I am obsessed with elephants—that was pretty much it. No fashion at all…

But what is even more surprising is the lack of talk about beauty. Being Rubinstein the absolute beauty master, I really expected to see more beauty-related content, and not just a few seconds of her advertising videos at the end, and less than a dozen samples of her beauty products. Although the curator did seem to admire Rubinstein for being a genius marketer and challenging the stigma associated with makeup in the early twentieth century, these issues were left mostly untouched, and nothing other than her art collections was shown.

I’ve experienced this kind of bias—showing Jewish “heroes” without elaborating on the reasons for their importance—in the past at the Jewish Museum, it hit me harder this time. As much as I value Jewish pride—or any type of pride, to be honest—I also like arguments with a basis. And I like going to museums to learn and be informed… Something I feel lacked this time.

I did enjoy seeing the beautiful portraits, though… And the art, especially when artworks from Picasso, Kahlo and Miro were juxtaposed to tribal sculptures from Nepal, Gabon and Ivory Coast. Oh, and the beautiful creations that Rubinstein’s collection of miniature rooms are—trust me, they are breathtaking! I really recommend paying a visit to the museum if you’re interested in any of these… But if you want to learn about this genius of the beauty industry, I wouldn’t say this is the place to go.