Auction house experts and dealers alike say they have noticed the arrival of a new type of collector in the field of 20th-century design: he is only interested in buying outstanding examples. The retired commodities trader, Bob Rubin, typifies this sort of buyer. Sotheby’s sold his collection of pieces by Jean Prouvé, Perriand and Le Corbusier on 18 December, 2004 for a total of $2,778,300.
Mr Rubin is a retired bullion trader, the son of an auto mechanic who, as a boy, collected baseball cards avidly. He later collected first edition books, wine and Americana before taking on the masters of Modernism.
By 1992 he had amassed a formidable Americana collection, including Paul Revere silver, Philadelphia Chippendale and Chinese export porcelain. He sold this collection at Sotheby’s for $1.2 million two years ago.
He then joined Columbia University’s Theory and History of Architecture doctoral programme. At the same time, he began collecting Modern design and says his interest in Prouvé, the inventor of prefabricated buildings, grew out of his previous interest in vintage racing cars, because both are industrial artifacts.
He combined his collecting habits with his academic skills to curate “Jean Prouvé: three nomadic structures” at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture (September 2003-April 2004).
Prouvé, who had no formal architecture or engineering training, is highly fashionable at the moment. The Paris fashion designer Azzedine Alaia has a Prouvé petrol station in his Paris loft. Last year Mr Rubin financed the restoration and removal of Prouvé’s landmark La Maison Tropicale from its site in West Africa to Presles, France, at a cost of over $1 million.
Now this famous prefabricated design has been restored, Mr Rubin is sending it on tour, complete with archival material. The exhibition “Jean Prouvé: a tropical house” opens on 14 February at the gallery of the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven. It moves to MoCA in Los Angeles (9 July-20 November) and may go to Japan next year. Robert M. Stern, the dean of Yale School of Architecture, says of the Rubin exhibition, “It’s one of those amazing intersections of scholarship and passion for art and architecture”.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Bob Rubin: a passion for Prouvé'