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Miami-based collectors Mera and Don Rubell (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Rubells have become synonymous with the A-list of major contemporary art collectors. Since 1964, Don and Mera Rubell have sought out the art of their time and have amassed what has grown to be one of the biggest and arguably the most important collection of contemporary art in the world.

Solange Pessoa, “Cathedral” (1990–2015) at the Rubell Family Collection

The New York couple moved to Miami in 1993, when it was largely considered a backwater of the contemporary art scene. Today, the city has a more prominent role as the world’s elite collectors and dealers converge every December for Art Basel Miami Beach.

For our latest podcast, I sat down with collector Don Rubell to discuss his life of collecting and the lessons he has learned along the way. We also discuss the new, 100,000-square-foot complex in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood the family is building. The massive space will be the new home for their art collection, as well as housing a library, lecture hall, sculpture garden, and more.

Here are some highlights from Don Rubell’s comments during our conversation:

  • For us, America is a celebration. I get very upset when people talk about making America great again. It’s an incredible place. Does it have its flaws? … Democracy is a terrible form, but it’s a hell of a lot better than any other form that’s come along.
  • Art doesn’t exist as an isolated phenomenon, it’s part of a long history. I think with the new building, we’ll be able to show how we arrived at it. Plus, I think we’ll be able to show people what we thought over the last 50 years.
  • I have a recurring nightmare that occurs — I must get it three or four times a month for the last 20 years — it’s that I was looking at the art here, and the best art was being made there. It’s that insecurity that will always exist.
  • All collecting is intellectual exercise. If you collect stamps, what’s the appeal of chasing every stamp? It’s a defect in your personality, obviously.
  • The younger the collector, the more the competition. I think, what you realize after a while, is that if an artist only makes one great piece, you’re very lucky if someone else buys it.
  • I think that artists, like actors, can’t develop in public.
  • When we first started collecting, if you wanted to look at contemporary art, you could go to six galleries in two hours and see all the contemporary art in New York. There was absolutely no cachet attached to collecting contemporary art. As a matter of fact, everyone thought you were kind of crazy for doing it, which was wonderful for us because there wasn’t that much competition out there.
  • The fascinating thing about contemporary art, is the most seductive thing in the world because, we’re dealing with our own times. Do I love classical art? I do, I adore classic a lot but it’s never going to speak to me in terms of the issues, in terms of the reasons why it’s generated the way contemporary art will. I think a lot of people came to realize this.
  • I have a flawed gene. I have a collector’s gene. When I was four, I was collecting bottle tops, and I still have my stamp collection that I started when I was six. When the military sent me to Japan … I ended up collecting … I’m prone to that kind of thing.
  • Thank God for the internet. Every day I spend two hours just going through images.

Cady Noland, “This Piece Has No Title Yet” (1989)

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