While we were in Madrid, we had the opportunity to visit the splendid exhibition “Pinturas de la Rubell Family Collection” and schedule an interview with Don and Mera Rubell, founder of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami’s Wynwood District. The exhibition includes 68 works by 36 artists from around the world. During our discussion, the Rubell have shared with us their passion for collecting, their desire to raise public awareness and support the new generation of artists through their involvement in contemporary art.
TCT: The Collector Tribune
DMR: Don and Mera Rubell
TCT: As one of the foremost contemporary art collectors, your presence is felt at exhibitions and Biennales throughout the world. What inspires and motivates you on your quest to collect?
DMR: Art informs and inspires a nonstop meaningful dialogue both within our family and between us and the outside world. The artist is an endless source of creativity. With contemporary art in particular, the artists are dealing with the time that we are living in, which makes the art so poignant and so engaging. Each generation of artists brings fresh ways of looking at the world.
TCT: The Rubell Family Collection (RFC) is very active in promoting contemporary art by means of loans to museums and cultural institutions. Starting February 11th, Fundación Banco Santander brings to Madrid an exhibition entitled: Pinturas de la Rubell Family Collection. How did this collaboration start and how do you feel about the special association between contemporary paintings from the RFC and Spain, the cradle of some of the most influential painters in art history?
DMR: People from Banco Santander have visited the Rubell Family Collection over the years. They have always been supportive of our work, and they approached us about collaborating. Banco Santander has a strong reputation not only because of its own collection but also because it exhibits works from other collections such as the Daros and Rebaudango. It has a mission which we believe in: to increase public awareness and encourage the next generation of artists by engaging them through contemporary art. People who support contemporary art today are confirming their faith in their own times. A great artist is as likely to be born today as at any time in history, and each generation has to find the courage to believe in itself. As the existence of Pelé did not prevent future generations from pursuing careers in football, so Goya and Velazquez have not prevented future generations of artists from becoming painters. In curating this exhibition, we were interested in selecting works that could dialogue with the paintings in the Banco Santander Collection and even at the Prado. For example, John Baldessari’s “The Same Elsewhere” specifically references Goya.
Thirty years ago when we first came to Madrid for the inauguration of ARCO, we met a young artist by the name of Juan Munoz. We remember endless conversations with him about how inspiring and intimidating it was to be part of this rich heritage of Spanish painting. One feels the power of the Prado and Velazquez, Goya El Greco, etc. As an artist in Spain, you have to feel you have a personal voice and talent to contribute the historical conversation about painting.
TCT: Pinturas de la Rubell Family Collection presents sixty-six artworks by thirty-three different artists – some of the finest examples of works by John Baldessari, Cecily Brown, Marlene Dumas, Elizabeth Peyton and Neo Rauch, to name but a few. Do any of the works in the collection carry a special meaning for you that you would like to share with our readers?
DMR: The exhibition represents more than 40 years of our collecting, with the earliest work being by Andy Warhol from 1973. Each work represents the time at which it was purchased, and each carries a significant relevance to the present. The works by Keith Haring were some of the first he ever sold. The Marilyn and Elvis paintings were from his first exhibition. We had a lifelong commitment to Keith, and collected more than eighty of his works. In fact, we bought the last work he sold before he died.
One of the artists in the show is Michael Borremans. A few years ago, we had the opportunity to walk with him through the Prado. It was his first time visiting the museum, and it was amazing to witness his reaction as a young painter, to see his reaction standing in front of the actual paintings he had seen in photographs as a student
TCT: Since 1993, the RFC is exhibited and publicly accessible in the Wynwood district of Miami. The spartan architecture – a repurposed DEA confiscated goods facility – helps the visitors focus on the artworks and their social message. Do you think that focusing purely on the art is today a privilege enjoyed by private collections, as museums are burdened by issues not directly related to the art?
DMR: As collectors we might have more freedom than a museum to make decisions based on our personal opinions. However, whether you are a museum or private collection, we all have to remember that it is a privilege to serve the artist and the public.
TCT: Until July 27th, 2012, RFC will present American Exuberance, a Miami exhibition that aims to be a moment of collective reflection in the effort to understand America of today. What does “American Exuberance” mean to you?
DMR: Promise, challenge, and diversity.
TCT: Is the idea of “education” an important part of the philosophy behind your success in collecting contemporary art?
DMR: Thousands of local public school students in Miami visit the Collection every year, and we love learning from their perceptions of contemporary art. Also, we host internships and a public library. That said, we do not purchase art with an eye to educational value. We buy art to which we respond personally and viscerally, although we do hope that the works will inspire young people.
TCT: Are there ethics involved in collecting?
DMR: Your own ethics are always at work, because your history and personal opinions are involved. For us, we focus on the quality of the art itself as well as our connection to it. But as collectors, you have to be open-minded and base your decisions on good will. Art has the power to enrich and improve our realities and move the world to a better place.
Paintings from the Rubell Family Collection
Fundación Banco Santander, Madrid
Feb 11—June 17, 2012
Rubell Family Collection, Miami
November 30, 2011—July 27, 2012
An Italian version of this interview first appeared in Grazia.it magazine.