“Exuberance” is one of the many “e”-words that aptly describe Art Basel Miami Beach, both the fair itself and the larger, enveloping phenomenon that encompasses a constellation of satellite fairs, a festival’s worth of live music performances (see the Art Basel Music Guide), endless exhibitions at galleries, museums, and private collections, and, of course, a panoply of parties, shindigs, and soirées. Indeed, “enveloping”, “encompassing”, “endless”, and “exhibitionist” are also apt “e”s, as are “extravagant”, “elephantine”, and, ultimately, “exhausting”.
Getting back to “exuberance”. Don and Mera Rubell, whose private contemporary art collection, housed in a former DEA-facility in Wynwood, is one of the biggest in the world, say the word jumped to mind when they were thinking up a title for their mega-exhibition, American Exuberance, which, as we already mentioned in our Art Basel To Do List, will open on Wednesday, a day before Art Basel Miami Beach proper.
“This title was in the mood of the moment,” Ms. Rubell told me in a recent interview. Her husband added: “Although we usually use ‘exuberance’ in a very positive, upbeat manner, the word has to do, more than anything, with forms of excess behavior, and I think this show is a reflection of that.”
Featuring 190 works, many of them made this year specifically for the show, by 64 artists, American Exuberance will occupy all 28 galleries in the Rubells’ 45,000-square-foot museum (which doubles as their home). All of the artists in the show are/were either U.S. citizens or residents whose work, according to the exhibition’s mission statement, can help us “understand the America we live in today.”
With pieces by legends (Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Jeff Koons) and established, young artists (Bert Rodriguez, Ryan Trecartin, Hannah Greely), American Exuberance spans several decades of American art in an effort to reflect the current state of the Union. The exhibition’s 244-page catalog features essays by 13 of the participating artists, including one by Cleveland native John Miller that the Rubells say informed their understanding of the concept behind the show.
“American exuberance is part myth and part reality,” Miller writes. “Paradoxically, exuberance is linked to stagnation, entropy, and ruin. Its efflorescence becomes mirage-like. For the artists, these conditions are materials.”
When we spoke, Mr. Rubell addressed the paradox of public sentiment in America right now and how it manifests in contemporary art.
“One of the great things about collecting contemporary art is that the artists are involved in contemporary issues, so that a lot of what you see represents … America today — the excesses, the fears, the frustrations, even the anger, and even a little bit of the silliness ” he said. “I think all of these factors play a large part in the contemporary definition of America.”
In American Exuberance, the Rubells’ are marshaling the creativity of scores of contemporary artists in an attempt to nail down that definition. It’s probably a futile attempt — even art may not be able to reconcile our nation’s fractured psyche — but it certainly will be worth experiencing for yourself, even if you don’t achieve that most beautiful “e” word: “enlightenment”.
Visit the Rubell Family Collection website at www.rfc.museum to learn more about American Exuberance. The RFC is also presenting Incubation, a daily breakfast/art installation, every morning from Thursday through Sunday.