How could an influential artist be forgotten? Rudolf Bauer, a German painter who was a revolutionary in the world of abstract art, had virtually gone unnoticed for many years because his paintings were hidden in the basement of the Guggenheim Museum. In Bauer, a play written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Jeffrey Albright, we learn the narrative of the late German painter: a story of love, betrayal and defiance. From being imprisoned in a Nazi camp to being a part of the shaping of the Guggenheim Museum, his story is truly incredible. John Duvall, Anne Cross and Cindy Bilby of Actors Collaborative Toledo are set to star in the show, on July 21 and 22. Duvall plays the role of Rudolf Bauer, bringing the artist’s personality back to life on stage as he delves into his experience of playing this part.
How did you prepare for this role? The people who own the rights [to the play] sent us a book and some videos on Bauer, so I just kind of started looking at his work. As an art history major and a docent of the [Toledo Art] Museum, I’m kind of familiar with why people were moving more toward abstract art. Doing research on Bauer and Guggenheim was my first step.
With Bauer being so influential in the art community, why do you think that his work and name remains unnoticed even today? It’s interesting; I would talk to my fellow docents about his name, and how no one knew who he was… because when the major catalogs and art history books started coming out, his work was stuck in the basement of the Guggenheim. There was no access to his images so people just forgot him, if they knew about him, or never learned about him, which is tragic.
What is the hardest part about portraying Bauer? There were several challenges. One challenge is that the play is filled with so many passionate, anger-filled speeches, but Bauer is dying and in a weakened state. Trying to find that balance, from an acting standpoint, was a challenge. How does a man who is getting ready to die show that anger and rage, and when he does show it, what happens to him? So there was the physicality of it. He was so angry and he was so betrayed, and trying to find moments when he is complacent was difficult, because he did have the love of his wife. I had to find different emotions in him because it would have been easy to just get up there and yell, but that would get boring to the audience— just trying to make him human.
Why is it important to see this play? From an art history standpoint, I think it’s really great to start exposing people to Bauer’s body of work. Even that poster that Jeff Albright did has a [Bauer] image on it, and in putting them around town people have asked, “Oh my gosh, where did you find that?” So just exposing his work and his story is important and it’s a really cool story about betrayal and defiance. And from an emotional standpoint, just how someone grows from rage and anger to acceptance and love. It’s definitely a journey, something that changed his life; how does he let that go?
What is one of your favorite Bauer paintings? He did some satire pieces before he went abstract when he was kind of making fun of political figures. I just thought he captured their personalities.