William Rubin, who as director of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York played a central role in shaping the museum’s collections and exhibitions, has died. He was 78.
Rubin, who had been in declining health for some time, died Sunday at his home in suburban Pound Ridge, N.Y., the museum said Tuesday.
Rubin joined the museum in 1967 and was named chief curator of the painting and sculpture collection a year later. Among the many influential exhibitions he organized was a Picasso retrospective in 1980 that filled the entire museum.
The museum considers “Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective” one of the most important and successful exhibitions in its history.
Other exhibitions launched by Rubin included “Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism,” “Frank Stella: Works From 1970 to 1987,” “Henri Rousseau,” “Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern,” “Cezanne: The Late Work,” “Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage” and two surveys of Stella’s work.
A show of Picasso portraits, organized by Rubin eight years after his retirement in 1988, was criticized by some because the works were arranged according to the artist’s successive relationships with women.
An art historian and curator, Rubin was tenacious in his pursuit of art he thought the museum should own. His quest resulted in his greatly expanding the museum’s holdings in abstract expressionism with works such as Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31, 1950" and Barnett Newman’s 1950-51 “Vir Heroicus Sublimis,” and the work of contemporary artists such as Anthony Caro and Stella.
His acquisitions for the museum also included Picasso’s “Guitar,” a metal construction sculpture from 1912-13 that the artist donated to the museum.
Born in Brooklyn, Rubin earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in art history from Columbia University.
During the 1950s and 1960s, he taught at Sarah Lawrence College and the City University of New York. He also worked as an editor for Art International.
At the time of his death, Rubin was finishing a book on the art he acquired for the museum.
He is survived by his wife, Phyllis Hattis, a daughter and two brothers.
Funeral arrangements are pending.