Nancy Rubins

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Nancy Rubins
Big Edge by Nancy Rubins.jpg
Big Edge
EducationMaryland Institute College of Art
University of California, Davis.
Known forSculpture, Installation artist, Photography
Spouse(s)Chris Burden[1]
AwardsAmerican Academy of Arts & Letters, Academy Award in Art (2003)
Rockefeller Foundation Travel Award (1993)
"Pleasure Point" projecting out from the roof at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla. 2007

Nancy Rubins (born 1952 in Naples, Texas) is an American sculptor and Installation artist. Her sculptural works are primarily composed of blooming arrangements of large rigid objects such as televisions, small appliances, camping and construction trailers, hot water heaters, mattresses, airplane parts, rowboats, kayaks, canoes, surfboards, and other objects. Works such as Big Edge at CityCenter in Las Vegas contain over 200 boat vessels. Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, contains 66 used aluminum boats and rises to a height of 30 ft.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Rubins was born in Naples (Texas) and grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee. She studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, where she received her BFA in 1974, and then at the University of California, Davis where she received her MFA in 1976. Rubins currently resides in Topanga, California and taught at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1982 to 2004.


In college Rubins worked primarily with clay, creating igloo-like sculptures out of mud, concrete, and straw.[3] Rubins avoided the characteristic permanence of ceramics with the constant disassembling of sculptures, collapsing her work back into the slip bucket or back into raw scraps. Her 1974 piece, "Mud Slip, Army-Surplus Canvas and Used Cups from Coffee Machine" combined found materials with wet clay; it lasted only as long as the clay stayed wet. Her creation of unlikely assemblages grew as she began to incorporate more detritus and found materials into her work.[4]

After college, Rubins started scavenging the local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores in San Francisco, where she was living at the time, collecting nearly 300 television sets for 25 to 50 cents a piece.[5]

Rubins was privately commissioned to create her first public installation in 1980. "Big Bil-Bored" was a highly controversial artwork, voted "Ugliest Sculpture in Chicago" in a radio poll. Constructed of various discarded appliances, the installation towered forty-three feet high outside of the Cermak Plaza shopping center in Berwyn, Illinois. Big Bil-Bored Soon after, Rubins was offered a commission for another public installation. In 1982, the Washington Project for the Arts funded Rubins's Worlds Apart,[6] a forty-five foot tall temporary installation composed of abandoned appliances, concrete and steel rebar. Her work overlooked the Whitehurst Freeway, blocks from the Watergate Building in Washington D.C., and again caused controversy.[7]

Rubins is perhaps best known for building sculptures out of salvaged airplane parts, such as an installation in 1995 for the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the piece weighed nearly 10,000 pounds.[8] Already by the mid-1980s she had begun regularly using abandoned airplane parts in her work. For durability, she chose aluminum, fiberglass and composites rather than wood.[9] Rubins collaborated with husband Chris Burden on a number of projects, including an installation called A Monument to Megalopolises Past and Future at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) in 1987. Boats entered Rubins' sculptural vocabulary in 2000s.[10]


Rubins's work has been shown internationally. Her solo museum exhibitions include those hosted by Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (1994); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1995); ARTPACE, San Antonio (1997); Miami Art Museum (1999); Fonds regional d'art contemporain de Bourgogne, France (2005); SculptureCenter, Long Island City, New York (2006); Lincoln Center, New York (2006); and Navy Pier, Chicago (2013).[11] In 1993, Rubins was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale. She was included in the Whitney Biennial that same year.[12]

Selected Solo Exhibitions[edit]

  • 2010: "Works for New Space, Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I & II," Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills
    • "Skins, Structures, Landmasses," Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills
  • 2006: "A Big Pleasure Point," at Lincoln Center, New York with The Public Art Fund
    • "Collages," Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
    • Sculpture Center, New York
  • 2005: FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, France

"Small Forest," Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York

  • 2003: Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, France
    • Neue Galerie, Graz, Austria
  • 2001: Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
    • Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills

Public collections[edit]

Installations can be found in the public collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Eli Broad Foundation, Los Angeles.[13] Large scale, outdoor sculptures are on permanent display at institutions throughout the world, including the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, and Université Paris Diderot, Paris.[14]




  1. ^ Kennedy, Randy. "The Balance of a Career". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Charlotte Hsu. "The Canoes Overhead: Nancy Rubins' Epic New Sculpture at the Albright-Knox Is Whatever You Make of It". Retrieved December 21, 2011.
  3. ^ Elizabeth Hayt (May 2, 1999), Monuments of Junk Artfully Compacted New York Times.
  4. ^ Katherine Kanjo (1995). Nancy Rubins. Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
  5. ^ Elizabeth Hayt (May 2, 1999), Monuments of Junk Artfully Compacted New York Times.
  6. ^ Elizabeth Hayt (May 2, 1999), Monuments of Junk Artfully Compacted New York Times.
  7. ^ Duncan, Michael (April 1995). "Transient Monuments". Art In America.
  8. ^ Jori Finkel (June 25, 2006), A Bouquet of Boats Blooming at Lincoln Center New York Times.
  9. ^ Jori Finkel (June 25, 2006), A Bouquet of Boats Blooming at Lincoln Center New York Times.
  10. ^ Nancy Rubins: Skins, Structures, Landmasses, June 3 - July 9, 2010 Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles.
  11. ^ Nancy Rubins Gagosian Gallery.
  12. ^ Elizabeth Hayt (May 2, 1999), Monuments of Junk Artfully Compacted New York Times.
  13. ^ "Nancy Rubins Big Pleasure Point". 2006. Archived from the original on November 8, 2011. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  14. ^ Nancy Rubins Gagosian Gallery.
  15. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Acquires monumental Nancy Rubins Sculpture". e-flux. March 11, 2006. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  16. ^ FINKEL, JORI (June 25, 2006). "A Bouquet of Boats Blooming at Lincoln Center". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Dabkowski, Colin (June 17, 2011). "Albright-Knox canoes make waves". The Buffalo News. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  18. ^