It's so much easier to forgive someone for having a family fortune when the money is put to good use, as Artbeat discovered on a recent visit to the Rubell Family Collection. This contemporary collection is now world-class, although its origins are humble. About four decades ago, newlyweds Don and Mera Rubell, who had bought their first work on a European vacation for about $50, began setting aside a monthly $25 art allowance. Today, thanks to money made in the hotel business and from the estate of Don's late brother, Steve Rubell of Studio 54 fame, the collection has grown to more than 6,000 works. A small percentage is displayed on a rotating basis in a newly renovated and expanded facility -- a former DEA warehouse -- that opened in 1996 in Miami's Wynwood Art District. The Rubells and their curator, Mark Coetzee, wow us as soon as we walk through the doors. The gallery across from the admissions desk is home to the commanding, room-sized Naufragios (1996), a site-specific installation by José Bedia that's an audacious look at, among other things, the saga of South Florida's boat people. The photo-intensive first floor also includes selections from the Rubells' extensive Richard Prince holdings and Thomas Struth's striking portrait of painter Gerhard Richter. Upstairs, the mazelike galleries feature impressive works by Hernan Bas, Louise Bourgeois, Purvis Young, and Lisa Yuskavage, along with Charles Ray's jaw-dropping Oh, Charley, Charley, Charley... (1992), an installation of eight nude mannequins of the artist engaged in a variety of sex acts. Elsewhere, although not currently on display, are works by Matthew Barney, Joseph Beuys, Ross Bleckner, Gregory Crewdson, Inka Essenhigh, Dan Flavin, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Takashi Murakami, Chris Ofili, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and Zhang Huan. And to their everlasting credit, the Rubell family (which also includes son Jason and daughter Jennifer) didn't jump on the bandwagon after these artists became art-world darlings. As Don Rubell says in the book Not Afraid: "We didn't start out with some master plan of building a great collection of contemporary art. We just bought the pieces that really amazed us at the moment we encountered them. We built the collection one piece at a time, and really, every time we buy a work, it's the same feeling. We always think it's the most exciting thing we've ever looked at." (The Rubell Family Collection is at 95 W. 29th St., Miami. Call 305-573-6090.)
Now on Display
Like the haunting, fabric-based sculptures in the Museum of Contemporary Art's recent "Louise Bourgeois: Stitches in Time," the creatures in the Anne Chu show are simultaneously alien and familiar, fascinating and repellent. The artist, who was born in New York in 1959 to Chinese émigré parents, freely fuses past and present with her work, which remains resolutely contemporary even as it draws on such diverse sources as Chinese funerary figures, medieval European sculptures, and marionettes. This exhibition brings together roughly three dozen of her sculptures and about 20 of her exquisitely spare watercolors. (Through July 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Joan Lehman Bldg., 770 NE 125th St., North Miami. Call 305-893-6211.)
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Magdalena Abakanowicz's 95 Figures stand in diagonal rows, like bronze sentinels, on the second floor of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. The human-sized sculptures provoke a heavy sense of foreboding. Some take a step; others are static; they're all headless and armless. The work is easy to appreciate for its size, the precision of the figures' placement, and its ability to draw a visceral reaction. The urge to climb in and stand among the figures, to be amid the crowd and absorb the mob's purpose, is almost irresistible. At the same time, the work provides no pleasure or enjoyment. There are five other pieces displayed with the figures. One at the end of the hall leading to the exhibit, The Second Never Seen Figure on Beam with Wheels, is looming and unique, a perfect counterpoint to the crowd. (Through October 30 at the Museum of Art, One E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Würth Museum Collection: The works of Christo and his wife/collaborator, Jeanne-Claude -- notably their projects of wrapped monumental structures -- must be seen in context. They manifest much of their sublimeness through the ephemeral and temporary nature of their existence. This show of 65 collages, drawings, photographs, and scale models from the Würth Museum Collection will hardly provide viewers with the profound aesthetic experience of seeing the real, finished installations. But what this exhibit can do is display compelling documentation of the technical requirements and processes that eventually lead to the completion of their ambitious projects, from their Wrapped Coast in Little Bay, Australia, to their most recent project, The Gates (7,500 saffron fabric panels suspended from frames that snaked throughout the pathways in New York's Central Park). (Through June 26 at Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach. Call 305-673-7530.)
Google Rudolf Bauer and you'll discover two things: He was a German-born abstractionist, and he's compared frequently to Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky. True, Bauer and Kandinsky abstracted their subjects in that same, soft, there-but-not-there style impressionists used on landscapes, with a shake of cubism thrown in for good measure. But the Boca Raton Museum of Art has gone where the Internet goes only if you look really hard. It has dug up an amazing collection of Bauer's early drawings and prints, created when he worked on German humor magazines in the 1920s and '30s. Bauer's drawings look as if they could have been New Yorker covers except they're so continental. In Man with Cigarette, the smoking man is hoarding the cigarette in the way only Europeans do. The fashions are extreme -- pointy, tight, and embellished far beyond their American flapper cousins in the '20s -- and the women are too perfect. Bauer was clever. His involvement in magazines honed his social commentary, and his drawings range from observations, rendered in gauche, of couples walking to pure caricature. Depictions of upper-class women making out raunchily with their gentleman like they were stable hands or performing a nighttime wash-up are wicked, like twisted Gibson Girls. If Bauer were going to caricature you, you'd want to cover your plump thighs. The exhibit is near-perfect in layout, traveling from his expressionist period, where the flavor of society at the time almost mocked itself, through his cubist transformation to the futurist abstractionist he finally became. As depictions of reality, some of the nudes displayed at the end of the exhibit look no better than what a novice might create in Figure Drawing 101. But they showed Bauer as a man whose hand must always have been sketching, and they're not disappointing. Instead, they're like ingenious credits at the end of a movie: not imposing but too good to step away from quickly. (Through June 19 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)
Robert Rauschenberg: Considered a central figure in late-20th-century art, Rauschenberg is also a long-time resident of Captiva Island, Florida. His recent work has begun to reflect distinctively local input: gators, punchy shadows, pink and green. His move to water-based media, inspired by safety and environmental concerns, forced his palette into a gentler range of intensity. This makes his new works more pleasant to look at than the saturated images he became known for, but the oomph has gone out of them as well. They're fun and lighthearted (the man is famous for being the same), but they seem to want for more resolution and gravitas. (Through July 3 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami. Call 305-375-3000.)