Reflections of a Collector

Jason Rubell '91 brings his senior-year exhibition back to Duke.
August 8, 2012

As the son of contemporary art collectors, Jason Rubell spent a fair amount of his childhood at gallery openings and museum exhibitions. By the time he was a teenager, Rubell started buying artwork that caught his eye, using money he’d made stringing tennis rackets. But he never thought of himself as a collector until his senior year at Duke.

At the urging of his art history professor, Kristine Stiles, Rubell put together an exhibition titled “A Student Collects: Contemporary Art From the Collection of Jason Rubell.” At the time, the Duke University Museum of Art was housed in a former science building on East Campus, and elevating the arts was not the institutional priority it is today.

Jason Rubell

That was then: Rubell in front of Keith Haring’s 1987 nine-panel series exploring the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. [Jason Rubell]

When Rubell reprises the exhibition at Duke next month, it will be on a larger stage. A prominent figure in the Miami art scene, Rubell is bringing samples of his collection to the Nasher Museum of Art, and he says he’s excited to see how students today think about their place in the art world.

“Time Capsule, Age 13-21: The Contemporary Art Collection of Jason Rubell” will be at the Nasher Museum from August 13 to January 6, 2013. The exhibition is a nearly identical re-creation of Rubell’s senior project.

"It's interesting to think about that moment when you cross a threshold and start to call yourself a collector or a curator."

“Part of my excitement about having ‘Time Capsule’ at the Nasher is that students will see the person behind the collection and possibly find some inspiration from it,” says Rubell. “It’s powerful to feel as though you can have a voice in the world of art, which is big and broad.”

Since graduating, Rubell opened a gallery in Palm Beach, which was later folded into the larger Rubell Family Collection, a permanent exhibition of contemporary art housed in a former Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated-goods warehouse in Miami. He is also co-owner of Rubell Hotels, a Miami Beach company that he runs with his sister and parents.

As part of the exhibition opening at Duke, Rubell and Stiles will lead a discussion about collecting contemporary art. “Kristine was the one who got me to think about all the art I’d been buying as a cohesive collection,” he says. “Before that, I was just a kid who was accumulating things I liked. It’s interesting to think about that moment when you cross a threshold and start to call yourself a collector or a curator.”