We Went to No Man’s Land: Women Artists from The Rubell Family Collection

by Paddy Johnson and Michael Anthony Farley on December 21, 2015 · 1 comment We Went To...

Mai-Thu Perret with Ligia Dias, "Apocalypse Ballet (Pink Ring) and "Apocalypse Ballet (3 White Rings," steel, wire, papier-mâché, emulsion paint, varnish, gouache, wig, flourescent tubes, viscose dress and leather belt, 2006.

Mai-Thu Perret with Ligia Dias, “Apocalypse Ballet (Pink Ring) and “Apocalypse Ballet (3 White Rings,” steel, wire, papier-mâché, emulsion paint, varnish, gouache, wig, flourescent tubes, viscose dress and leather belt, 2006.

No Man’s Land: Women Artists from The Rubell Family Collection
95 NW 29 ST, Miami, FL 33127, U.S.A.
through May 28, 2016

Participating artists: Michele Abeles, Nina Chanel Abney, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Kathryn Andrews, Janine Antoni, Tauba Auerbach, Alisa Baremboym, Katherine Bernhardt, Amy Bessone, Kerstin Bratsch, Cecily Brown, Iona Rozeal Brown, Miriam Cahn, Patty Chang, Natalie Czech, Mira Dancy, DAS INSTITUT, Karin Davie, Cara Despain, Charlotte Develter, Rineke Dijkstra, Thea Djordjadze, Nathalie Djurberg, Lucy Dodd, Moira Dryer, Marlene Dumas, Ida Ekblad, Loretta Fahrenholz, Naomi Fisher, Dara Friedman, Pia Fries, Katharina Fritsch, Isa Genzken, Sonia Gomes, Hannah Greely, Renée Green, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Jennifer Guidi, Rachel Harrison, Candida Höfer, Jenny Holzer, Cristina Iglesias, Hayv Kahraman, Deborah Kass, Natasja Kensmil, Anya Kielar, Karen Kilimnik, Jutta Koether, Klara Kristalova, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama, Sigalit Landau, Louise Lawler, Margaret Lee, Annette Lemieux, Sherrie Levine, Li Shurui, Sarah Lucas, Helen Marten, Marlene McCarty, Suzanne McClelland, Josephine Meckseper, Marilyn Minter, Dianna Molzan, Kristen Morgin, Wangechi Mutu, Maria Nepomuceno, Ruby Neri, Cady Noland, Katja Novitskoval Catherine Opie, Silke Otto-Knapp, Laura Owens, Celia Paul, Mai-Thu Perret, Solange Pessoa, Elizabeth Peyton, R.H. Quaytman, Aurie Ramirez, Magali Reus, Marina Rheingantz, Bridget Riley, Cristina Lei, Rodriguez, Pamela Rosenkranz, Amanda Ross-Ho, Jennifer Rubell, Analia Saban, Lara Schnitger, Collier Schorr, Dana Schutz, Beverly Semmes, Mindy Shapero, Nancy Shaver, Cindy Sherman, Xaviera Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Tamuna Sirbiladze, Shinique Smith, Lucie Stahl, Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Sze, Aya Takano, Fiona Tan, Mickalene Thomas, Rosemarie Trockel, Kaari Upson, Hannah Van Bart, Paloma Varga Weisz, Marianne Vitale, Kara Walker, Mary Weatherford, Carrie Mae Weems, Jennifer West, Sue Williams, Haegue Yang, Anicka Yi, Lisa Yuskavage.

What’s on view: Two floors worth of immersive installations, sculptures and paintings by over 100 female artists in the 45,000-square-foot former DEA warehouse that houses the Rubell Collection.

Paddy: Spending most of the day on the floor of the Miami Convention Center for Art Basel has its benefits, but after looking at this year’s crop of b-grade blue chip work I began to forget what they were. Can this small pool of famous artists possibly deserve all the riches they’ve been bestowed? Is there really such a thing as transformative art experience? I’m embarrassed to admit that bad experiences so consistently make me question all the times art did feel transformative to me.

But the great thing about the Miami fairs, in general, is that if one fair or show fails, there’s always something else that won’t. So while Basel was the biggest flop, this year, it was pleasantly offset by what I can honestly describe as some of the best art experiences I’ve ever had. That includes our participation in SATELLITE, of course, but specially, I’m talking about No Man’s Land at the Rubell Collection, which is just jaw droppingly good. I can’t remember ever being in a space where in practically every corner there was a work that gave me such sheer joy for looking at it. When you look at as much work as we do that’s almost unheard of. And of course, it has to be mentioned that of the artists they collect, they often own their best works—or at least memorable ones. Cecily Brown, Rachel Harrison, Barbara Kruger, Marlene Dumas, Cindy Sherman—all had some of their strongest work on view. The show’s incredible.

Michael: It’s interesting that you mention this show as a faith-restoring experience in relation to the let-down that was Basel. I found myself marvelling at the fact that here, the blue-chip market and a private collector managed to accomplish something many institutions or independent curators haven’t—presenting an all-female show that feels as if it has nothing to prove. Of course, there were a few more overtly feminist pieces here, but there wasn’t any heavy-handed curation that narrativized the exhibition in opposition to the male-dominated art world or as the product of a struggle. By and large, this was just an incredible collection of talented artists who happened to female. I thought of the Bechdel Test—which asks whether or not two or more female characters in a piece of literature or film have a discussion about something other than a man. No Man’s Land passes with flying colors. So much of the work here was in dialogue over medium, consumption, experimentation, art-for-art’s sake—the spectre of the patriarchy was refreshingly absent even as a point of critical discourse, mostly.

Catedral RFC

Solange Pessoa, “Catedral,” hair, leather, and fabric, 1990-2003.

Paddy: I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said here. Just to add to your observation about dialogue over medium, while I think we both agree that this show doesn’t present the viewer with a specific agenda, there is a great convergence of taste and history on view here. The feminist movement did a lot to push materiality as subject matter in the 70’s, (history I like to think the traveling show “That F Word” made more commonly known), and you can see that history extend into the Rubell collection. The first two galleries are filled with massive fabric based installation works by Solange Pessoa—an obvious nod to that feminist material history, and we see that throughout the show, from the cut canvases of Diana Moulton to Jennifer Rubell’s life size mannequin cum nut cracker. I don’t think any of these works were specifically collected for their connection to feminist art history, it just happens that the moment has had a lot of influence on artists the Rubell’s like. Given the organizing principle of the show—highlights from a massive collection loosely arranged under a chosen theme—the chances the exhibition would be boring are pretty high. (After all, it could be anything: cars! text! neon!) But this this exhibition is the best possible outcome of a single subject show I can imagine, that’s a huge achievement.

Michael: Just to clarify, I love feminist artwork. But I’m often bothered by the terms “Woman Artist”, “Queer Artist”, “Asian-American Artist”, et al. because they seem to imply that “straight white male” is the default identity of “artist” and everyone else is an exception. And those demographic details aren’t always central to a given artist’s practice. People almost never describe someone as a “Caucasian-American Heterosexual Male Artist” unless they’re using it as a negative.

I digress, sorry. At any rate, this show is amazing.

Isa Genzken, "Schauspieler," 2013 (foreground) with Kerstin Brätsch, “When You See Me Again It Won’t Be Me” and “I Want To Be Wrong,” (both from "Broadwaybratsch/Corporate Abstraction series," 2010).

Isa Genzken, “Schauspieler,” 2013 (foreground) with Kerstin Brätsch, “When You See Me Again It Won’t Be Me” and “I Want To Be Wrong,” (both from “Broadwaybratsch/Corporate Abstraction series,” 2010).

Michael: Why is everything Isa Genzken does so good? I think this gallery does a fantastic job setting the tone of the exhibition: almost every room features graphically bold work and at least one piece with a playful sensibility.

Marlene Dumas, “Miss January,” oil on canvas, 1997.

Marlene Dumas, “Miss January,” oil on canvas, 1997.


Michael: Photos really don’t do justice to this weird and wonderful painting by Marlene Dumas. I always appreciate paintings that tell you some kind of story about the artist’s decision making process. Here, there’s so much going on. Like, why is she not wearing pants? Or her one sock? None of the flesh tones on different body parts match. Her face is somewhat over-worked to the point of being muddy and mask-like while the leg with a sock on is just a sketch. At first glance, it looks like Dumas started “finishing” the painting from the top-down but then gave up. But there’s a peculiar, brilliant logic to its awkwardness. The unfinished ground (which almost implies the painter couldn’t settle on a color choice) feels unstable like she’s on unsure footing, despite her assertive stance.That top-heavy distribution of paint/solidity animates the image, like the figure is dangling from the wrong center of gravity. All the jerky limbs point toward her crotch, which is where one’s eye is immediately drawn as a result of the exposed cadmium underpainting for her hands—which is complementary to the splotchy-eggplant background. It’s really satisfying to take in all the different areas of contrasting opaque/washy surface and naturalistic/acerbic colors. The effect is a figure that seem like she’s partially transparent and glowing. I would’ve loved to have been in the studio at the moment Dumas decided this was “complete”. I imagine it would be like that scene in Balzac’s Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu (“The Unknown Masterpiece”) when the mad painter Frenhofer unveils his inscrutable portrait of Gillette.  

Paddy: In similarly-sized painting right beside the Dumas, Miriam Cahn perfectly and realistically renders the female figure draped in a sheet, but for the face, which is cartoonishly sketched out in blue. She dots in the eyes with white paint and slaps on a pink line for the lips. It’s like something you’d see in an art history book altered by aliens. Anyway, it’s funny and a little creepy and plays really well off the Dumas. Both look stranger somehow.


Rachel Harrison, “Voyage of the Beagle,” 2007 (installation view).

Michael: Rachel Harrison’s “Voyage of the Beagle” documents sculptures from paleolithic totems to polystyrene wig heads and taxidermy. The 57 photographs are loosely sequenced based on formal similarities or some other association such as a facial expression or shape of headgear. Following that progression and spotting those connections is so much fun I wished there 58 more. Which, conveniently, there are. The second half of the series is on view across the bay at The Bass Museum in Miami Beach until January 10th. I can’t wait to see the sequel.

Paddy: This piece made me want the New Museum to launch a Rachel Harrison retrospective. It’s time. She’s a dollar store wiz like Jim Shaw (whose retrospective is currently on view at the New Museum) and in this piece creates a lineage of relics that extend from as you say, paleolithic totems to weird 20th century consumerist products. Her shots of taxidermied animals and mannequins are particularly amusing. Whatever expression they have—joyful, WTF, stunned—it’s never the one you expected.

Anyway, the wish for the retrospective came out of wishing there there was more work by this artist to see. Unlike Shaw, Harrison is also a master sculptor on the level of Franz West (and clearly influenced by him.) The lumpy “pretty-ugly” sculptures at Greene Naftali we reviewed 2012 would have been an amazing add, or the work she installation she showed at the 2009 Venice Biennale—but there wasn’t the space.

Mary Weatherford, “past Sunset,” 2015 and “Chung King Road,” 2014, both flashe and neon on linen.

Mary Weatherford, “past Sunset,” 2015 and “Chung King Road,” 2014, both flashe and neon on linen.

Michael: I don’t know how she does it, but Mary Weatherford manages to stick neon on top of paintings without coming across as gimmicky. Her older abstract compositions were loosely inspired by California coastlines, but in the past few years she’s been making these darker paintings with neon that subtly reference urban landscapes. One thing that’s been consistent and impressive is her ability to use paint so gesturally while still recalling a painting’s referent—these paintings wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Ab-Ex heyday of the New York School, but they’re also convincingly evocative of a city at night. I love how the “horizon line” in “Chung King Road” (a gallery-lined, neon-lit thoroughfare in Los Angeles’s Chinatown) looks like a sketch of a faux-pagoda roofline like one might encounter on that street.

Barbara Kruger Rubell Family Collection

Barbara Kruger, “Untitled, (Money Makes Money)”, 2001, screenprint on vinyl, 155 inches x 90 ½ inches.

Paddy: I still can’t get over how many monumental art works in this show so effectively dominated the space that you’d literally feel awestruck by their presence. I wasn’t able to take a single picture that communicated this feeling, but the Barbara Kruger above and the Solange Pessoa installations when you first enter the galleries certainly achieved this, as did the Cady Noland beer can installation. The Barbara Kruger, in particular stood out for me, in part because I don’t normally care for the work. It feels formulaic: short text over image. Why is it that this piece, over so many of her other billboard sized works felt so moving? I still don’t have a clear answer to that question, but I’m going to start with the relatively overt female sexual references here, which dwarf the viewer. It’s pretty incredible. But what’s the overall message here? That women with money make more money? I don’t get it. Maybe it’s not essential that I do?

Michael: It’s funny, I didn’t give this piece much thought when I saw it in the gallery, probably because Kruger’s work is so iconic that I often have very little reaction to seeing it beyond the recognition of “That’s a Barbara Kruger.” Considering it now though, this is a really nice piece. I think the Rubells have a great capacity for collecting big, recognizable names (as well as emerging artists) but picking pieces that stand out from those artists’ respective oeuvres. For example, I really love this Kusama painting (below), maybe because it’s not dots but still channels that obsessive, repetitive process. And it’s scale is so anti-monumental and intimate. I loved standing close to this and seeing all the variations in line. It reminds me of those medieval Islamic mosaics that would include deliberate flaws as a sign of humility.

Yayoi Kusama, "Infinity Nets (H10)" acrylic on canvas, 2000.

Yayoi Kusama, “Infinity Nets (H10)” acrylic on canvas, 2000.


Dianna Molzan, “Untitled”, 2010, Oil on Canvas on fir, 55x36 inches.

Dianna Molzan, “Untitled”, 2010, Oil on Canvas on fir, 55×36 inches.

Paddy: Overduin and Kite showed this Molzan at NADA 2009. They were the talk of the show, and by the next year, she’d landed a show at The Whitney’s project space. I haven’t heard much about what’s she’s making these days, but I’m glad these pieces landed in such a good collection because they brought attention to the growing field of painters who use the medium as though it were fabric. Since 2009 I’ve seen seemingly countless exhibitions of artists making work just as fresh as this, perhaps the most recent being the summer show at Mixed Greens Common Thread. Molzan’s work stands out for offering art historical references to minimalism and geometric abstraction, as well as referencing craft and fashion.

Michael: This is so great. It paired so well with the Amanda Ross-Ho nearby, where a painted-black canvas has been cut to a silhouette that recalls some sort of macrame tapestry. In the context of an all-woman show it’s tempting to read these as a feminist statement about painting (traditionally “masculine,” for some reason) being dependent on fiber arts, or “woman’s work” but I’m not sure that was deliberate.


Amanda Ross-Ho, “White Goddess #3” with “Peripheral Disclosure”, 2007.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “White Goddess #3” with “Peripheral Disclosure”, 2007.

And then there’s the paint-splattered bucket there to remind us that this is a painting, which is weird and theatrical but I guess is more immediate than reading a material list. I do like how the paint drips on the bucket relate to the crispness of the “tassels” in the cut canvas piece. That sort of “behind the scenes” inclusion of painting’s collateral damage reminded me of her piece at NADA this year, where she recreated the paint-splattered t-shirt she was wearing while completing an installation.

Michele Abeles, "Arm, Plant, Bottles, Wood," archival pigment print, 2011.

Michele Abeles, “Arm, Plant, Bottles, Wood,” archival pigment print, 2011.

Paddy: Younger artists were grouped in the farthest gallery. This piece is the first I remember seeing by Michelle Abeles, and what a doozy.

Michael: Yeah! I think I just realized that this might be a straightforward photograph (as opposed to a collage) that’s was shot “portrait” orientation and then just hung as a landscape. This is great.

Everything here is great. This was one of those shows that makes me wish I had the funds to buy art. I’m always shocked when a private collection surpasses the expectations I have for museum shows. Is this what the art world would look like without men? I’m into it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: