The Rubell Collection's Half-Hearted "American Exuberance"

  • It is hard to imagine a vaguer curatorial conceit than the one that apparently guides “American Exuberance,” the Rubell Family Collection’s current show at its warehouse in Miami. The exhibition, an introductory statement tells us, “creates a portrait of the American condition,” and notes—a bit defensively—that all 64 of its artists are “citizens or residents of this country.”

    As Karen Rosenberg has already said in The New York Times, the show seems “to be a catch-all for recent acquisitions” by the Rubells, and it certainly suggests that they have been busy snapping up art from gallery shows over the past year.

    Frank Benson’s slick, sly sculpture of a woman in sunglasses and a tunic (editions of which appeared at Overduin & Kite and Taxter & Spengemann in recent months) is here, for instance, in front of early Richard Prince photographs, and looking over at a 1985 Koons basketball tank and two Haim Steinbachs, one from 1988 (garbage cans and lava lamps on a shelf) the other from 2011 (a little Lego spaceship on another).

    The walls of one room are hung with works by the underrated and arch colorist John McAllister, whose recent turn at James Fuentes showed him improving on his deceptively complicated still lifes and landscapes. (Some of the ones here appear to have been picked up from Mr. McAllister’s show at Geneva’s Ribordy Contemporary earlier this year.) And they have nice, small, silver Jacob Kassays—five of them, all in a row.

    What all of these works have to do with contemporary America is anyone’s guess, but it is nice seeing many of them again, and doubly nice to know that they are not sitting in storage crates somewhere.

    But there are also bizarre sections, perhaps none more so than the room filled with recent work by artists from the Lower East Side’s Untitled gallery: Brendan Fowler, Phil Wagner and Matthew Chambers. (Mercifully, painter Henry Taylor, also of Untitled and Blum & Poe, has been allowed to show elsewhere in the warehouse, away from his gallery mates.) David Adamo, who makes finely-wrought wood sculptures and is probably the most interesting artist in Untitled’s roster, is nowhere to be found.

    One of Nate Lowman’s dead-on-arrival Marilyn paintings that we saw at Gavin Brown earlier this year hangs here near a Prince nurse painting. Lowmans have proved to be popular with collectors (Yankee Alex Rodriguez had the artist design an installation for his batting cage, and the de la Cruzes, another Miami art-collecting family, have his work on view right now), just like Sterling Ruby’s ponderous spray-painted canvases, which the Rubells also displayed: four gigantic ones—each almost 20 feet long—alone in one room.

    Better in the painting department is Rashid Johnson’s 14-foot-long After Medium (2011), wood floor paneling that he has branded with smoky shapes. We have never seen anything quite like it.

    The annual ritual that is the Rubell show–sponsored this year by fashion house Lanvin, among others–is a very public reminder of where one group of monied collectors is spending its capital. One wonders if collectors in town for Art Basel see where that money is going, and are tempted to follow. There are probably worse methods of buying–investing in–contemporary art, at least in the short term.

    Of course, if the show’s title recalls one thing, it is former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s description of the wild, speculative acquisition of Internet stocks at the end of the 1990s: “irrational exuberance.” Maybe the Rubells are onto something after all.

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