Collective Experience

Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz's assemblage of cutting-edge contemporary works boldly questions the traditional definition of Latin American art

"Artists from Latin America may have similar problems, but their responses to them are different," he continues. "Each individual, each city, each country has their own experiences. For me 'Latin American' does not represent a concept that serves me in my work or my life. If it works for others, I think that's fine. It's very important that everyone find his or her own place despite the place where they come from."

"When you set up a collection, you have to deal with these particular terminologies," notes Manglano-Ovalle. "I think the de la Cruzes' interest is in artists who have gone beyond the modernist description of the Latin American to a more critical reconstruction of one's identity."

Rosa de la Cruz gets up to take a phone call from Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the artist whose light sculpture at the Lowe was mistaken for a holiday display. Gonzalez-Torres is in town from New York. A loud, animated conversation in Spanish about restaurants and food ensues. About ten minutes later, the collector, still smiling at the artist's anecdotes, leads the way to a sparely furnished library off the house's living room. The silhouette of a female form sculpted from sand lies on the marble floor. It is a prized acquisition, one of the few existing pieces by the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, who died in 1985 after falling from a window of her New York apartment.

Several photographs of Mendieta's powerful, spiritual earthworks, made by burying her body in mud or sand -- or burning her outline into the grass at sites in Mexico and Cuba -- are displayed on a mauve wall over a recessed bookcase. A stack of 21 men's shirts, all white, penetrated by a steel rod sits on the floor behind the sand sculpture. This untitled piece by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo was inspired by the experiences of 40 women who witnessed their husbands being killed on their own doorsteps. A dark work entitled Witness, painted by Carlos Alfonzo -- who died in Miami of AIDS at age 41 -- is on the wall behind it. De la Cruz refers to this room as "the chapel."

She points through the windows of a connecting parlor to the back yard, where she soon plans to start construction of a separate exhibition space for works from the collection, which has outgrown the house. Many of the installations the de la Cruzes own have special spatial requirements. "I'm not buying normal household art," de la Cruz emphasizes. "I'm going beyond that.... I have a work by Rimer Cardillo that requires soil and leaves -- where do I put it?"

De la Cruz speaks fervently about each artwork in her home, stressing that she and her husband do not buy art as an investment. "If I were to start pricing the current value of my works, that would defeat the purpose of what I'm doing," she explains. "I just want people to recognize these artists for the quality of their work. I'm not doing this for myself, I'm doing it for the artists. It's not my work, it's theirs. I don't care how much it's worth. This art is not for sale."

The strong-willed de la Cruz has been known to have her differences with art dealers, who she often circumvents by buying directly from artists in their studios. The artists themselves enthusiastically confirm the couple's ongoing support of their work above and beyond that of most collectors.

"The de la Cruzes bought one of my earliest paintings," remembers Roberto Juarez, whose show, "They Entered the Road," opened last week at the CFA. "Then they bought a more recent painting, so it seemed they were trying to tell a story. It wasn't like they were just buying a name that everyone else was buying. They were really interested in the development of the work, and that's rare."

"Rosa and Carlos are open to a lot of experimental work, not only in terms of materials, but in terms of philosophical approaches," says Cesar Trasobares, who created the light-box installation owned by the couple. "They're not the typical Cubans who collect prerevolutionary art. They're buying live art. It goes beyond accumulating valuable property, it's sort of a philosophical commitment. I've met a lot of collectors through the years, and if we had three more like them, Miami would really be in good shape."

The de la Cruzes plan to donate their collection to a public institution at some point in the future. With this is mind, they are acquiring museum-quality pieces that most private collectors would stay away from. For instance they often buy works that are large in scale or otherwise difficult to install. And they have supported artists by funding works for museum shows. "The de la Cruzes have commissioned work sight unseen," confirms Manglano-Ovalle. "They said to me, 'We know you do a lot of work that could never fit inside a house. So if you ever need financial support, give us a call.' So I did." The result was an installation piece called Balsero (Rafter), currently on a museum tour. The de la Cruzes still have not seen the work.

"I want the best of every artist's works," de la Cruz states emphatically, gesturing to the artwork around her. "These are the kind of works that museums are looking for, but they may not have the funding right now to buy them. So we will.

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