At the age of twenty-two, Jason Rubell '91, then a fledgling collector of contemporary art, was pondering postgraduation plans to work for a large dealer or in a gallery. But, as he told Duke Magazine in 1992, "I decided to jump right in myself. I figured, whatever I needed to know, I would learn on my own. What's the worst that could happen?"
Rubell was right. He learned quickly on his own. The opening show of the Jason Rubell Gallery on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach drew more than 300 people, garnered glowing reviews, and put the savvy, fearless young collector in the public eye. And while his success was no doubt buoyed by the family name--Don and Mera Rubell, his parents, had long been fixtures on the New York art scene--it was Jason who lured the family to South Florida and a seedy section of Miami's fashion district, the new home of what soon became perhaps the most illustrious mom-and-pop operation in the art world.
The Rubell Family Collection, which absorbed the Jason Rubell Gallery, opened for business in 1996 at 95 Northwest 29th Street, a 40,000-square-foot warehouse formerly used by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Confiscated illegal narcotics were replaced by edgy works of art, no less addictive for collectors like the Rubells, whose outsized collection (more than 6,000 works in all, from paintings and photographs to sculptures and performance pieces) functions, as its curator Mark Coetzee puts it, "with the nineteenth-century tradition of a picture gallery." Exhibitions are drawn exclusively from the permanent collection, only 2 percent of which is on display at any time. Artists are sometimes invited to install their pieces themselves. And viewers are encouraged to sit in the lounge and to engage with the works as if they were in their own homes.
Last March, The New York Times called the Rubells "pioneers" of "an art frontier" in Miami, the "new locus for serious collectors." And indeed, Jason Rubell is first among them, continuing to acquire new works--and new collectors; his wife, Michelle Simkins, with whom he has two children, has joined in the pursuit.
"Collecting for the Rubells is a family affair; everything is done by consensus," writes Coetzee, in the introduction of Not Afraid, the Rubell Family Collection catalogue, a 240-page "Who's Who" of contemporary art that includes works by Andy Warhol, Carl Andre, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Mike Kelley, and Louise Bourgeois. "By simply paging through the installations," Coetzee writes, recalling the warehouse's former holdings, "you will begin to understand this family's addiction, their vice, their inability to say 'No.' "
"Family Affair": Update
"The Art of Collecting Art," Duke Magazine, July-August 1992
November 30, 2004