By Juline Chevalier
Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Jason Rubell about collecting contemporary art. We chatted for nearly two hours as we discussed the exhibition “Time Capsule Age 13 to 21: The Contemporary Art Collection of Jason Rubell” which will go on view at the Nasher Museum on August 23, 2012.
You might think that the title of the exhibition can’t be right – that a collection of contemporary art featuring artists like Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Sol LeWitt and Francesco Clemente couldn’t have been compiled by a kid between the ages of 13 and 21, but that’s exactly what this exhibition is. Jason got bit by the art-collecting bug early due in large part to the influence of his parents, Don and Mera Rubell. Don and Mera started collecting contemporary art early in their marriage, and made their kids, Jason and Jennifer, part of the process.
The exhibition was originally shown at the Duke University Museum of Art (the museum that Duke had before the Nasher) as Jason’s senior project when he was an undergrad at Duke in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. Now it’s being shown 21 years later: a record of the time in which it was created and collected, and a snapshot of Jason Rubell as a young man.
Jason laughs and smiles easily and gets very animated when speaking about contemporary art – clearly a topic he is very passionate about. Even though he’d just gotten back from Europe the day before, he spoke with energy and enthusiasm about learning to collect art by visiting galleries and artists’ studios with his parents growing up in New York City. Jason shared stories of his parents bribing him and his sister with ice cream or an hour on the basketball court if they would visit a handful of galleries without complaining.
So, yes, there was bribery, but there was also thoughtful engagement from Don and Mera. They instructed Jason and Jennifer to collect brochures from the galleries they visited and then to formulate their own reviews of the work they saw. Don and Mera also talked to their kids about art. They asked them what they thought about what they saw and what it meant to them. Jason learned early on that when looking at and talking about art, kids could have opinions and ideas that could stand alongside those of adults.
The first artwork to enter Jason’s personal collection wasn’t one Jason purchased, but one that was gifted to him. In 1982, when Jason turned 13, the up-and-coming Keith Haring had gotten to know the Rubell family. Haring not only designed the invitations to Jason’s Bar Mitzvah, but also gave him a painting as a birthday present. Jason talked about this gift as a major turning point for him. The idea that Haring trusted Jason to care for and appreciate one of his artworks made a significant impression on Jason, and gave him the confidence to collect more works on his own.
So, get ready to be wowed by the bold choices that Jason Rubell made in selecting work for his personal collection. And get ready to be charmed by Jason’s thoughts on collecting. Editor’s Note: Chevalier’s extensive interview with Rubell will become an audio-guide to accompany the exhibition. IMAGE: Keith Haring (Collaboration with LA II), Untitled, 1982. Acrylic and ink on fiberboard, 11 3/4 x 23 3/8 x 3/4 inches. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.