A Miami Artist is Turning Fine-Dining Etiquette on Its Head

By Rachel Corbett |

© Fredrika Stjärne

The hotelier-turned-artist Jennifer Rubell has made it her life’s work to break the rules of fine dining: the seat assignments, the wine pairings, the polite conversation. “They’re deadly experiences,” she says. “Everybody agrees to do this thing that nobody enjoys.” This year, the artist invited a few dozen guests for an unorthodox brunch at her parents’ Miami museum, the Rubell Family Collection.

The daughter of Miami hotel developers and art collectors Mera and Don Rubell, Jennifer grew up well trained in the conventions of high-end hospitality. These customs are especially evident during Art Basel Miami Beach, the five-day frenzy that draws the biggest art collectors in the world to Miami for an endless calendar of parties, galas and dinners. Since the fair first launched in 2002, Jennifer has been hosting increasingly outlandish breakfast performances in an attempt to “blast open” these staid affairs.

At her most recent performance, instead of frittatas and waffles, tables were set with 50 white-frosted cakes. The gesture was partly a toast to her parents, who are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of when they began collecting art together. But Rubell has also made it clear by now that she loves breaking rules. So if you’re not supposed to have dessert for breakfast, that’s exactly what you’ll get. “You have the rest of your life to behave,” she says.

Rubell may have sealed her fate as the art world’s most infamous hostess in 2009, when she hosted a Genesis-themed dinner for the art organization Performa. It began with honey dripping from the ceiling onto a half-ton of barbecued ribs and ended with guests smashing Jacques Torres chocolate bunnies with hammers.

“People want to destroy things, be gluttonous,” and that’s what makes it all worth it. “People still come up to me and say they remember every detail of that dinner,” she says. “I’m only allowing them to do what they really want to do.”

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