The Rubell Family Collection is housed in a modified, clearly marked former Drug Enforcement warehouse that was once a storehouse for confiscated narcotics straight out of Miami Vice. With low slung white couches and a sleek outdoor courtyard that could easily be found on South Beach, it lacks the rough industrial aura of the Margulies Collection, but presents a contemporary array of works with a personalized edge. At a mere 40,000-something square feet, it’s more manageable than its humongous Wynwood District neighbor.
The jampacked exhibition near the entrance, Time Capsule, Age 13 to 21: The Contemporary Art Collection of Jason Rubell is crammed with 70s and 80s greats hung salon-style in a pristine well lit gallery space. Time Capsule features an astonishing variety of art pieces collected by a young Jason Rubell from age 13 through college. Funded by his part-time job stringing tennis rackets and later backed by family wealth inherited from Studio 54 creator, Steve Rubell, Jason was able to explore the idea of ‘clarifying an art collection’ as part of his college thesis.
The resulting exhibition includes over 90 works by George Condo, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Andreas Gursky, Richard Prince and others who sold their works at budget prices before becoming the art stars they are today, inspiring Jason and his parents to open their collection to the public in 1995. Although the walls are filled from top to ceiling with more than one could possibly absorb, I particularly enjoyed revisiting Richter, Polke, Peter Halley, Keith Haring, Cindy Sherman and Bruce Naumann, and was fascinated to see how a student’s collecting efforts could be so prescient and spot on.
The main exhibition HOW SOON NOW spills through the rest of the building with works by 30 contemporary artists and has the raw and unpredictable feel of a biennale. A large central room on the ground floor is sparsely installed with colorful scorched wood etchings by Brooklyn based artist Matthew Day Jackson, and larger sculptural works that include his covered wagon on technicolor florescent rails and Study Collection IV, 2010, a mad scientist trove of artifacts with a skull and X-rays with a Duchampian feel.
Lushly collaged works by the Starn Twins of Christ and roses are preceded by the sleek Hydrate and Perform, 2010, a Minimalist installation of colored Vita waters in aquarium-like tanks by Tobias Madison. On the second floor, Pawel Althamer’s skeletal wire and metal sculptural duo, Adam and Eve, 1996, perversely stands out against a background of disturbing contemporary videos by Swedish artist Natalie Djurberg, a Neo-Pop installation of American flags and beer cans by Cady Noland, and three fabulous funereal urns full of taxidermic bats and animals by Huan Ying Ping.
Coming from New York where art is more institutionalized made visiting two massive private museums in one day seem quite novel. Both collections are astonishing despite their inevitable uneven moments. Of the two, the Rubell feels more specific and personal, as if the family embarked on a fantastic shopping spree and snatched up everything that they loved. In contrast to Margulies’ more comprehensive, methodical and impeccable style of acquisition, and in keeping with the spirit of Studio 54, the Rubells have taken a few more wild leaps.
Images: Gerhard Richter, Untitled (Candle), 1989; Keith Haring, The Story of Jason, 1987; Pawel Althamer, Adam and Eve, 1996. Courtesy of the Artist and the Rubell Family Foundation.