Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Rubell Family Art Collection, Miami
The Story of Jason, Keith Haring (1987)
Having heard all about the Rubells and their audacious, cutting-edge art collection, I was excited to take a break from sunbathing and make my way to the nondescript warehouse once serving as a Drug Enforcement Administration storage facility for cocaine and cash and now home to one of the greatest collections in the country. Given how off the beaten tourist path the collection is, I was expecting an unusually serene viewing experience but I was delighted to discover on arrival that I was actually the only one there (the Foundation purportedly receives an average pf 200 visitors a week). A private  viewing of a unique collection -- doesn't get much better than this right?

Well sort of. There were two exhibits on: "Time Capsule" and "How Soon Now." The first was the re-installation of Jason Rubell's senior curatorial project exhibited at Duke University Museum of Art in 1991, a collection of artworks he built-up from 1982 (when he was only 13 years old) right up to the inaugural date of the exhibition. The mini-collection, which included the nine black and white photo collages by Keith Haring captured in the photo above, was so intriguing and had some fantastic pieces. As I walked through the eclectic mix of artistic styles, mediums and subject matter, I tried to imagine what could have motivated a teenage Jason Rubell to sell his tennis rackets and golf clubs (true story) to be able to acquire another artwork to add to his growing collection now hanging before me decades later. The works themselves varied in quality but there were a few outstanding pieces such as an Andreas Gursky photograph of a public swimming pool, three Richard Prince "jokes," an architecturally-inspired lineal drawing by Sol LeWitt and a stunning Cindy Sherman photograph. But what did it mean that I had just-so-happened to pick out the works by the "big names?" Was it a natural consequence of these artists' superior talents or was it that my viewing of Time Capsule (and any art for that matter) was subconsciously pre-conditioned by my knowledge of these notorious artists, their styles and their works? I approached the works with a completely open mind and although for one reason or another I was drawn to the more well known artists, that is not to say that the lesser known works did not warrant attention or the mini-collection taken as a whole (it would have been interesting to view the works chronologically to see the progression but that was not the curatorial approach adopted (it was unclear what it was)).

Still with an open  mind, I wandered to the other temporary exhibit (the gallery changes exhibitions twice yearly). It was a complete contrast to "Time Capsule" and not in a good way. There seemed to be no curatorial theme whatsoever linking the works, most of which were very recent acquisitions. And while I have no problem with erotic, hugely graphic art, several of the works felt like provocation for the sake of provocation. "How Soon Now" was neither interesting nor enjoyable to view and some of the works were frankly laughable -- a piece of purple cloth pinned to a wall is art? Really? The fabric had barely, if at all, been worked; it could have been a kitchen towel pinned to any wall (I have no sympathy for this kind of art - I felt the same way when I saw Gabriel Orozco's Yogurt Caps, which consisted of one blue Dannon lid attached to each of the four walls of an otherwise empty room. At the time, it received mixed reviews with Art in America calling the show "yet another tedious effort to wed neo-conceptualism to commodity critique;" Frieze went with "disarming articulation of emptiness"). But beyond trying to draw the line between what constitutes art and what does not, the exhibit was lifeless (ironic really with all that sex) and lacked any concept (also ironic given the likely strong influence of conceptualism on these artists). I would only make an exception for the two Cecily Brown paintings which, like most of her outstanding work, were so dramatic with those decisive, thick, colorful paint strokes. Thankfully, "Time Capsule" alone made the trip to the out-of-the-way warehouse worthwhile and I didn't feel too bad about giving-up a couple of hours of beach time.

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