Irwin Rubin (1930-2006) was an American artist, teacher, and collector. Rubin was born in Brooklyn, NY and attended The Cooper Union’s School of Art from 1948-1952. He went on to study with Josef Albers at the Yale University School of Art, where he received his BFA and MFA in 1953 and 1956 respectively. At Yale he focused on paper collage, and elements of his thesis inquiry into “Permanency and Collage” were later developed for publication in Arts Magazine, and for the book Artists at Work by Bernard Chaet.

Irwin Rubin at his desk, c. late 1950s

Irwin Rubin's Untitled Paper Collage, n.d. (c. late 1950s), published in Bernard Chaet's Artists at Work, (Webb Books, 1960)

In the late 1950s Rubin expanded his two-dimensional paper collage practice, incorporating cardboard and wood to create works in low relief. By 1960 he created his first painted wood constructions to further explore the possibility of using color three dimensionally. His early constructions feature grid-based compositions in which the frontal planes are painted white and the side planes reveal bright primary hues. He expanded on his constructions throughout the decade, adopting a variety of color palettes and visual referents, from architectural facades to psychedelic lollypop worlds.

Irwin Rubin with three Untitled Collages (1958-1959) and gold stars, at a McGraw Hill Publishing Co. art competition, May 1960

Irwin Rubin's Construction #4, 1960, exhibited in New Forms — New Media II at the Martha Jackson Gallery

Rubin’s work from the early 1960s was associated with the Neo-Dada movement and was included in the New Forms — New Media exhibitions at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, NY. His collages and constructions were also featured in group shows at the Stable Gallery, Byron Gallery, and Bertha Schaefer Gallery, all in New York City. National and international exhibition venues include: Gallerie Iris Clert, Paris, France; the Pace Gallery, Boston, MA; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI; and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Rubin’s Construction #21 was featured in Wit and Whimsy in Twentieth Century Art, a traveling exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts, mounted at nine museums and university galleries throughout the United States. Rubin’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the RISD Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the Sheldon Museum in Lincoln, NE.

Irwin Rubin's Construction #21, 1961

Rubin taught color theory, drawing, and two-dimensional design for nearly half a century. He held posts at the School of Architecture, University of Texas, Austin, TX (1955); the Department of Art, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (1956-1958); and Pratt Institute, New York, NY (1964-1967). From 1967 to 1974 Rubin taught freehand drawing and color to architecture students at Cooper Union. From 1971-2001 he taught foundation and advanced color theory, drawing, and design at The Cooper Union School of Art. Works form his Freehand Drawing course were featured in Education of an Architect: A Point of View, a 1971 Museum of Modern Art exhibition and catalog showcasing projects by Cooper Union architecture students from 1964-1971. His teachings and students’ drawings are also included in Cynthia Dantzic’s Design Dimensions: An Introduction to the Visual Surface (Prentice Hall, 1990) and in Alexander Caragonne’s The Texas Rangers: Notes from an Architectural Underground, (MIT Press, 1995).

Problem 1: Make one color look like two or more, Irwin Rubin in his signature gray shirt, teaching Color Theory at Cooper Union, c. late 1980s — 1990s

Rubin amassed a notable collection of antiques, antiquities, and oddities throughout his adult life. His interest in collecting emerged out of weekly childhood visits to the Brooklyn Museum, a National Geographic subscription, and a 1941 encounter with the Hearst Family Collection at Gimbels Department Store. As a young man he had an informal mentorship with H. Khan Monif, a renowned dealer of Islamic art and illuminated manuscripts.


Guided by color and an attention to craftsmanship, rather than following any one area of specialization, Rubin’s collection included Persian calligraphy and miniatures, Native American baskets, Kachina dolls, buttons, stick pins, folk art, Victorian furniture, and Victorian miniatures. Rubin considered two historic houses that he lived in and worked to restore — an 1880s neo-Grec brownstone in Park Slope, and Brambleworth, an 1847 stone Gothic Revival cottage in Mount Kisco, NY — as part of his collection. Rubin was fascinated by all things miniature — the smaller the better — and his unfulfilled dream was to build a miniature museum.