Jennifer Rubell, a food writer turned performance and installation artist, talks to T+L about her most inspiring trips.
For Jennifer Rubell—known for large-scale, food-centric projects such as Padded Cell, a room with walls made from 1,800 cones of cotton candy meant for viewers to eat—traveling is about uncovering off-the-radar places most people wouldn’t even think to visit, like a slaughterhouse in Basel, Switzerland, or a tamale factory in Dallas. “It’s always at the regular mom-and-pop hardware store where you will find incredible design,” says Rubell, who grew up in an art-collecting family. Here, she reveals some of her best discoveries—and a few old favorites.
Queens, New York
With a studio in Queens, Rubell spends plenty of time in New York’s largest borough. To see what her contemporaries are up to, she frequents MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave.; 718/784-2084), a former public school that was converted into a center for contemporary art. “The director Klaus Biesenbach has been curating some of the most dynamic shows in the city,” she says. Rubell also visits the SculptureCenter (44-19 Purves St.; 718/361-1750), where multimedia works by Sanford Biggers are on view through November 28. When it comes to dining, Rubell likes the “crack and cheese” (fried gnocchi with bacon and béchamel) and braised-pork-belly tacos at Danny Yi’s Salt & Fat (41-16 Queens Blvd.; 718/433-3702; dinner for two $55). “Yi is big into the pig.”
Rubell—who grew up in Miami—hosts a hot-ticket breakfast at her parents’ Rubell Family Collection during Art Basel, which heats up the city every December. But there’s plenty of culture to experience year-round. “One of the unique things about the local art scene is that so many contemporary patrons open up their private collections to the public,” Rubell says. Her favorites—besides her parents’, of course—are the de la Cruz Collection and the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation.
During a two-week holiday in the Greek islands, Rubell took over a friend’s villa on Hydra, a longtime haven for the creative set, such as artists Brice and Helen Marden and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. “There are no cars, and the only way to get around is by donkey or boat,” she says. “So you basically live a life that is completely other.” She fell in love with the picturesque beaches, namely Kaminia, a walk from town, and Vlichos, accessed by boat. Come night, Rubell would head to the Pirate Bar-Café (30-229/805-2711; drinks for two $20), a watering hole on the marina.
Austin to Marfa, Texas
Last year, Rubell drove through the Hill Country to research barbecue joints for a possible project. “I went to maybe 10 spots in a day,” she says. In Lockhart, the self-proclaimed Barbecue Capital of Texas, she fell in love with Smitty’s Market (208 S. Commerce St.; 512/398-9344; lunch for two $15). “The walls have this incredible color from the smoke, and the meat is cooked low and slow.”
Rubell continued on to Marfa, where meat gave way to minimalism. Her first stop: the Chinati Foundation, a former army base that Donald Judd converted into an exhibition space. “Artists like Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, and Judd installed their work, which will remain there in perpetuity,” she says. At the nearby Judd Foundation (104 S. Highland Ave.; 432/729-4406), “you can see where he was working out his minimalist vocabulary,” Rubell says. “Even the way he arranged his books is amazing.”
Driving out of town, Rubell passed Prada Marfa, off U.S. Route 90. Installed in 2005, the permanent sculpture looks like a Prada store and is meant to eventually blend into the landscape. “You’re on a highway, driving from nowhere to nowhere, and suddenly there it is.”
While working on a recent performance piece for the Fondation Beyeler, Rubell got to know the culture-rich city of Basel. She always stays at her “favorite hotel in the world”: the Krafft Basel (12 Rheingasse; 41-61/690-9130; doubles from $365), which “provides everything you need—one towel, one beautiful carafe for water, and a view of the Rhine.” Another ritual: a pilgrimage to Le Corbusier’s Notre-Dame-du-Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France, about an hour’s drive from Basel. Rubell calls it “the single most beautiful piece of architecture I have ever seen in my life.”
Rubell—whose 2010 show at the Brooklyn Museum included giant heads made of Fontina—unearthed “unbelievable” cheese at Fromagerie Bernard Antony (5 Rue de la Montagne; 33-3/89-40-42-22), located in a tiny Alsatian town. (And she’s not the only one: many Michelin-starred restaurants source from there.) Owner Bernard Antony is “a rock-star cheesemonger,” she says. “You just close your eyes and pick anything, and it’s the best version of that cheese.”