How Soon Now offers a look into the aesthetic sensibilities of the Rubell family. The newest exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection offers more of what we have come to expect from the familial collecting giants: cutting-edge contemporary art, young artists, a little shock, and a speculative look into the future art world stars.
Yet for all its daring, the Collection’s most surprising move might be Time Capsule, the 20th anniversary installation of Jason Rubell’s senior curatorial project first exhibited at the Duke University Museum of Art in 1991. (Full disclosure: Jason Rubell, T’91, is a member of the Nasher Museum’s national Board of Advisors.)
The exhibition, which Jason curated with the advising of Kristine Stiles (Full disclosure: Kristine is my exceptional professor who has provided guidance for me much in the same way I imagine she did for Jason), boasts an array of (1980s) superstars: Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, Michael Jenkins, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, and Jessica Stockholder, to name only a handful of the 53 artists and their 95 works on view. The collection began with a bar mitzvah gift from Keith Haring, who designed the then-13-year-old Jason’s bar mitzvah invitation, and flowered after he made his first purchase of George Condo’s Immigrants (1983). From there his personal collection flourished and experiences associated with the touring exhibition and its catalogue became an important exercise in opening the collection to the public in 1994.
As someone currently in the same place Jason was 20 years ago, I have the pleasure of imagining a Duke without the Nasher Museum, my professor 20 years younger, these works of art in what is now the space where I take literature and cultural anthropology courses. I see the seedlings of curatorial studies and a Duke I would never know.
The exhibition is indeed noteworthy for its quality of work, but as Jason advises in the new catalogue’s opening essay we should view these works as a portrait. And this portrait of the star collector as a young collector offers a glimpse into what enabled How Soon Now. Time Capsule is a look into the past from a radically different future. We see not just how Bruce Nauman and Cady Noland might have enabled Ryan Trecartin and Marianne Vitale, but how the tastes of a collector developed, how the Rubell Family Collection came to be. This is not just about artistic production, but the development of an aesthetic sensibility.
More importantly, it reveals a youthful foray into collecting: a young collector now matured who was willing (if unknowingly) to complicate the collector-institution relationship, unafraid of exhibiting his taste in an environment where contemporary art stopped in the Warhol ’60s.
Time Capsule is more than an exhibition or nostalgic exercise. It transcends its work, considered individually or in Gestalt, and asks what the Rubell Family Collection is, what it does, and how it arrived where it is today. Past, present and future collide and blur, exploding in an archive defined by and transcending time. Twenty years after the end of his undergraduate career, Time Capsule exposes us to a fledgling collector still figuring things out as a mature collector, an established collection still articulating its voice and both collection and collector letting us know how they ever found their feet.
IMAGE: Thomas Ruff, “Portrait [I. Graw]” (1988) and “Portrait [J. Rubell]” (1989).