Classical KUSC



The Art of Appropriation

Posted By: Katie McMurran · 2/11/2013 3:41:00 PM

Studio 54, that infamous den of disco music and partying, doesn't instantly evoke thoughts of high art, but there is a connection. Steve Rubell, the owner of Studio 54, was friends with many of the movers and shakers in New York's downtown art scene: Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name a few. That kind of artistic star power ended up rubbing off on Steve Rubell's brother Don, and Don's wife Mera, who would become serious art collectors.

Though Steve Rubell died in 1989, the Rubell Family Collection continues to grow. It is now one of the world’s largest, privately owned contemporary art collections, and has been called "one of the most complete surveys of contemporary art in the U.S."

"[Don and Mera Rubell] fell in love with the experience of meeting artists, going into studios and discovering artists who weren't necessarily blue chip artists, but artists who were part of a lively art scene in New York," says Daniell Cornell, Deputy Director for Art and Senior Curator of the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The museum is currently home to an ambitious exhibition originally organized by the Rubell Family Collection in 2009, titled Beg, Borrow and Steal. The title references a quote from Pablo Picasso: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal."  And steal they do: all of the artwork in the exhibit plays on already-existing imagery, objects or artistic styles.


George Condo, Big Reclining Nude, 1988
Oil, charcoal and paper on canvas, courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami


Cornell had the daunting task of choosing pieces from the original exhibition to fit in the Palm Springs Art Museum's spaces. The Rubell Family Collection had 40,000 square feet to work with, the Palm Springs Art Museum just 12,000. To accommodate as many pieces as possible, Cornell has made use of both the museum's main location in downtown Palm Springs, and a satellite location in Palm Desert.

"One of the things I wanted to do was make sure I represented most of the artists in the show," says Cornell. "It was interesting to be able to do this in the main space and the space in Palm Desert, because the gallery spaces [in Palm Desert] are a lot of little alcoves, so your experience with the work is more intimate. A lot of the smaller pieces went into that exhibition space."

58 artists are represented in all, covering a wide array of periods and styles. The exhibition features painting, sculpture, photography, and video, with a special emphasis placed on LA artists.



Karl Haendel, Untitled (Anita Hill), 2006, graphite on paper
courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Appropriation is a commonly accepted practice in popular music, and has been used in other art forms too. As for contemporary visual art, Cornell says it's here to stay:

"I think you would be hard pressed to find contemporary artists or critics who didn't see the value and significance and importance of it. There are critics and some artists who lament the fact that this is the dominant art practice, but I think they're swimming a little upstream. That doesn't mean there won't come a time when this is played out and authenticity returns. Art has always navigated between these two poles of authenticity and appropriation."

Pay a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum, and you'll see that for now, appropriation reigns.



Jim Lambie, Tangerine Dream, 2004, mattress and paint
courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Beg, Borrow and Steal is currently on display at the Palm Springs Art Museum and at The Galen building in Palm Desert through June 2, 2013. For more information, visit

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