The Rubells–Owners of the “30 Americans”

Mera and Don Rubell

Mera and Don Rubell

On Thursday, August 15, Don and Mera Rubell, the owners of the 30 Americans exhibit visited the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM).  The Rubell Family Collection (RFC), which includes the 30 Americans, comprises thousands of works and is probably one of the largest privately-owned art collections in the world.  Juan Roselione-Valadez, the director of the RFC facilitated the down-to-earth, impromptu lecture.  The Lubar Auditorium was near capacity as the Rubells shared the beginnings of their journey which began shortly after their marriage in 1964.

Mera, the primary spokesperson, shared how making a “connection” with the artists, their work, and inspiration is just as important (if not more) as purchasing art.  The Rubells shared stories of the intimate relationships they fostered with well-known artists Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, and others.  Surprisingly, conversations they had with contemporary artists (many of whom happened to be African American) and their influences revealed artists whose works they had been acquiring for the past 30 years—Robert Colescott, Carrie Mae Weems, Barkley Hendricks, and Kara Walker—to name a few.  The idea of 30 Americans exhibit was born from a desire to marry the works of both emerging artists and those who inspired them.  Again, they happened to be African American artists.

I enjoyed the Rubells’ candor and humor as they shared the pact they made early on to discuss the “validity of collecting potential artworks” with each other before purchasing them.  Both state they have held true to this collaborative spirit—not always easy when one’s passion over acquiring a new work overrules the logic of such a purchase!  The talk was informative, entertaining, and authentic—I could have listened to them for hours.

Nina Chanel Abney Lecture at MAM

On Thursday, August 1, Nina Chanel Abney, one of the 30 Americans artists’ gave a lecture at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM). Abney, originally from Harvey, a Chicago suburb, currently lives and works in New York. Although she is known as the “youngest artist of the 30 Americans;” the evolutions of her works over the past few years have undeniably “experienced” her. Below is one of her pieces currently on display at the MAM:

Khaaliqua and Jeff

Khaaliqua and Jeff

The rubber gloves are used in her work to signify those who may be involved in some type of dirty work they don’t want to be made liable for or, for those who are trying to protect themselves from something harmful.  Nina’s boldly colorful acrylic paintings began to grow in size at the encouragement of a college professor who suggested that she work large-scale.  A picture of her studio showed the walls covered with enormous canvasses of works in progress.  She also creates smaller watercolors as a relief from her primary work.

Nina’s work brings together influences from political, social, and cultural issues while purposely distorting their original focus or meaning.  At times Nina forces us to face typical societal  stereotypes, offering a playful view that though surreal is painfully all too real.  I adore her senior class thesis painting “Class of 2007” in which she painted her classmates black while she, the only African-American in her class is displayed as white.

Class of 2007

Class of 2007

I do identify as I recall my college days of often being the only “one.”  When creating, she has a definite path of where the painting is going—yet there is no point of assuming you have a handle.  According to Nina the work flows better when she creates intuitively at the canvas never really planning ahead what she is going to do.  However, once she gets started she does gather information from research, newspapers, the Internet, etc., for reference.  It seems Nina may continue to work in a state of flux to keep the viewer ever wondering.  I dig that about her!