It takes special foresight to develop a personal passion for nearly 60 years and turn it into a nationally respected public heritage. Miami’s longtime art collectors Don and Mela Rubel are not artists and have not received formal training in art appreciation. Still, through a keen eye for new talent and fearless trust in their own intuition, they not only collected one of the largest private collections of contemporary art in the country, but also enjoyed it by the general public. I did it.
Originally named the Rubel Family Collection since 1993, the collection was exhibited at a 40,000-square-foot facility in Miami’s Winwood district. Then, in December 2019, the collection became the Rubel Museum and opened in a larger space in the Arapata district. Famous architect Anna Berseldorf designed a renovation of a building that previously had a separate warehouse.
The idea of opening a museum would have been “ridiculous” when the couple first started collecting, Don says. But as the collection grew, they felt the need to share that powerful message with the general public. “Contemporary art is a surprisingly perceptual mirror of society that makes us think and sometimes change our thoughts,” explains Don. “Contemporary art can only be judged at the moment of viewing, so there are many opportunities to judge for yourself.” Critics and the general public have already made judgments about the works of masters, and that is our way of thinking. He adds that it is influencing.
“What they did [with the museum] Says Arnold Lehman, a friend of mine who is a senior adviser to the Phillips Auction in New York City and an honorary director of the Brooklyn Museum. “They are insatiable and will go to see art everywhere, so they built something very important to Miami and South Florida.”
Mela dates back to 1964, when she married, the beginning of a couple’s common passion. “I’m a head-start teacher, earning $ 100 a week and Don started medical school in NYU,” she recalls. “We lived in the Flower District, now called Chelsea. At night we took a walk and met an artist who lived and worked in an empty storefront. We were in their studio. Entered and the whole world was opened. “
Despite the limited budget of young couples, they began to buy contemporary art. “At that time, we started with something that was affordable and attractive,” says Mela. “In Chelsea, we rarely came across famous artists.” Their first work was by an “unnamed” artist with a work they praised. “We didn’t know anything about art. When he asked if he could afford to pay with a payment plan, I said $ 5,” she said with a laugh, but the artist agreed. Did. “How far can you extend your payment plan? It’s a long way off, I can tell you.”
Flash Forward 57: Today, the museum’s collection includes over 7,000 works by over 1,000 artists, including Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Cindy Sherman, as well as numerous up-and-coming artists from around the world. increase. The new campus has a Basque restaurant, Leku, where you can dine indoors and outdoors, a library, and 40 galleries in a 60,000-square-foot exhibition space in a connected old warehouse.
“This is a version of’If you build it, they’ll come’,” Lehman says, referring to the location of Arapata, the industrial district of distribution centers and warehouses. “I had to imagine what the interior of this warehouse would look like. At first I wondered,” Who dreamed of it as a museum? ” They are risk takers and are not afraid to seize opportunities. “
In 1993, Winwood had almost the same taste that Arapata has today. But if history is a guide, the museum’s current home acts as a catalyst for an international art boom similar to that that helped kickstart at Winwood.Interactive art experience including Super Blue Miami, Site Specific Works by acclaimed artists such as James Turrell, who opened opposite the Rubel Museum earlier this year.
The museum is privately funded primarily through the work of a couple with a family-owned hotel or real estate agency. Grants from organizations such as the Knight Foundation and Bank of America have supported a decade of artist-in-residence programs and educational opportunities for students such as internships.
Personally, Rubel has been supporting and encouraging artists for many years. Often one of the first to buy their work. As a collector, it makes sense because they allow ground floor access to prime pieces, Don says. “When collecting art from the early days, we often buy leftovers because the artist’s best works are already in institutions and large private collections,” he adds. “It’s important to remember. Picasso was once a young artist. Mattis was once a young artist. And often their best art was made early in their career.”
Rubel, including his son Jason, also helped bring Art Basel to Miami Beach nearly 20 years ago. Lehman says the annual International Art Event put South Florida on a map of artists, dealers and collectors. “Miami quickly became synonymous with art, and the trade fair created by Art Basel became part of the city.”
Art is a problem for Rubel’s family, and both children inherit artistic genes. Jason is a collector who works with his parents in the real estate business and museums, and his daughter Jennifer is a conceptual artist. “She has the artist’s gene and he has the collector’s gene,” says Mela. Discussions rarely fluctuate from their favorite topics. “We always talk about art. When my husband and I wake up, we talk about art. Thanksgiving and Christmas conversations are about art. I think it consumes the passion of the family,” Mela said. Jokes, but adds that it is also an opportunity for “cross-generational” communication, including five grandchildren.
“Art is not a boring theme,” Mela continues. She points out that part of the reason why her passion for contemporary art is so sustainable for decades is that it speaks to the problems of our time. “When the AIDS pandemic was rampant, Keith Haring was involved. [in the 1980s and 1990s].. It was a hidden pain and the theme of many of his works. “
Mela is optimistic about the future direction of contemporary art, especially when it comes to recent topics about digital non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and increasingly interactive works. “As collectors, we don’t have to think about the future,” she says. “We go where the artists take us.” She hasn’t been inspired by NFTs yet, but she’s open-minded. “Whatever it takes to create great art, I will not rule out it. I am looking for works that broaden the vision of the world and inspire, teach and engage in my life. If it does those things, it’s powerful. “
Couples continue to travel around the world, wandering around galleries and museums, visiting artists, attending lectures, and doing due diligence before making a purchase. “Don is an enthusiastic and well-read researcher,” says Mela. “We have a library of 40,000 books, which are not put on the shelves until they are read, so they are always read.”
Perhaps surprisingly, what they don’t have at home is a rich collection of art. Instead, they show one or two parts that need deliberation. “We don’t use art for decoration,” explains Mela. “We hang our work in a house we want to study and explore. Our house is a kind of laboratory.”
Looking back on decades of collection journeys, Mela likens it to an out-of-body experience. “When we started collecting in Chelsea many years ago, we are still doing the same thing as before. We challenge ourselves and do not expect to enter the world. We Intrigued, then we are delighted, engaged, and inspired. It is a great honor. We are humble because I am a child of immigrants and my husband is a child of a mail carrier. I’ve been here from the beginning, but I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. “
For the love of art
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