A Family Affair

Four decades on and the Rubells are still at it

M: It was the building.

D: Well, it was the building and the context; they both make the right feel.

M: A personal necessity on a bunch of levels; the physicality of the building was critical. Instead of spending a lot of money and creating it, we invented an urban landscape to find what we were looking for.

Don and Mera Rubell: Their art radar is always on
Jonathan Postal
Don and Mera Rubell: Their art radar is always on

Location Info

Map

Rubell Family Collection

95 NW 29th St.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Details

305-573-6090. Open Wednesday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., or by appointment.
95 NW 29th St, Miami

D: We understood that there were wonderful people here in the neighborhood. We're from New York and feel perfectly comfortable within an urban existence.

Has it been always like this?

M: [Laughs] No, when we started, we were poor. However, you have to understand that we always spent lots of money in art. Don was a medical student and I was a schoolteacher for the first Head Start program with a $100 per week salary.

D: We managed.

M: We figured out how to collect art; $25 of that $100 would go to art.

D: [Interjecting] Well, the numbers have changed, not the percentage. [Laughs]

When did this happen?

M: Nineteen sixty-four, when we got married.

How do you keep up with all the art out there? Art seems to grow everywhere. Take a look at China, an unbelievable market.

M: We are very much in touch with China. But the key is that we keep in touch with the artists.

D: We look for them. The radar is always on.

M: An endless number of studio visits. The artists make you understand that if you want to achieve certain things, you have to look at your problem in different ways.

Why Miami?

M: We had to live here. We've heard people saying, "I wouldn't visit your collection in that place," or "Before going to your place, I would not have thought of going into that location."

D: You have to make a choice to move over the threshold. We've always lived with the art. Living away from the art was like losing a connection.

M: It was the right place at the right time. You see this building? A former DEA facility, very scary, with all the paraphernalia of police activity, surveillance rooms, wires.

D: There were even bullet traces on the walls.

M: I went to this [nearby] elementary school and I sat down with the principal. I felt the school would give me an indication. There was such evidence of caring and parenting and tremendous pride in the children in this poor neighborhood.

D: I'd say that the security here is better than in North Bay [Village]. People care; this is their life. If a stranger comes here, they'd find out.

You were here through the arts explosion and in a way a part of it. How does it feel to be a catalyst?

M: It feels great, but we are also very involved with the universe of art; we have relationships with all these artists and countries.

D: I hope the neighborhood doesn't change. We don't want this to become a huge mall or condo canyon. The development needs to take that into account.

M: I'm concerned that artists will be pushed out. Purvis used to live nearby. The development may turn all this into a place that doesn't feel good for art anymore.

D: We've lived through the various urbanisms. You can buy a million-dollar condo and still not have the community that these people have around here.

On the second floor you have a serious display of new paintings. What's going on?

M: We are abreast of what's going on in artists' studios around the world. The mission of the collection is to find these movements. We don't care where it happens -- in a neighborhood in Leipzig or a slum in Beijing.

D: Painting is as unique and fresh as it was a hundred years ago.

M: We follow the moods, the trends.

Yes, but as collectors you see things and show them, and that influences curators, museums, and the media. You can incite trends with your exhibitions, and people will react.

M: Perhaps, but it would be foolish to pretend that one person can do anything all by himself. I wouldn't simplify it -- consensus is very complex.

D: See, we've shown Richard Prince; for sixteen years nobody paid attention. All of a sudden they love it. The way I see it, people are ready to see it now.

M: Perhaps you can say we were one voice among a group of people who saw it differently. It's the sum of all these voices that make it happen. But ultimately we collect what speaks to us personally.

Where are we heading in terms of art?

M: I'll tell you something. We wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day and we don't get out of bed until about 8:00 a.m., and we literally talk about art for an hour every day. It's the subject of our lives.

D: [Interjecting] Your question is very interesting. We cannot anticipate; if I did, I would make the art happen. I can't do it -- the window is really very short. There's an artist we're going to exhibit this December who is completely off the radar; there are only two or three people who have seen the work. We think it's incredible. It feels right.

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