Don and Mera Rubell: collecting masterpieces

Don and Mera Rubell have collected contemporary art for more than four decades, beginning with a $25-a-week budget, and now travel the globe looking for more pieces.

Don and Mera Rubell have collected contemporary art for more than four decades, beginning with a $25-a-week budget, and now travel the globe looking for more pieces.

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

Visit the online tour


American Exuberance
Rubell Family Collection, Miami
November 30, 2011—July 27, 2012

Installation Views


An Italian version of this interview first appeared in Grazia.it magazine.

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3 Responses to "Don and Mera Rubell: collecting masterpieces"

  1. Don and Mera,
    We’ve met several times at Anderson Ranch when I was an artist there. I know you guys are good people. Hope you can do something about this:

    According to the Aspen Art Museum’s recently mailed annual report: “In the sixth year of the groundbreaking Aspen Art Museum and Aspen Skiing Company partnership, the duo presented unique collaborative projects that celebrate the shared vision of art in unexpected places.” Cough.

    Aspen Skiing Company recently fired a singer [Dan Sheridan], banned a song [Big Money], a newspaper [Aspen Daily News] and a whistleblower [Lee Mulcahy] from all company property, including leased National Forest.

    Likewise, the Art Museum banned the whistleblower Mulcahy from all museum functions, including its leased public building [leased from the people of Aspen]. The museum most recently made news in Germany under the search tags ‘petty tyranny’ and ‘protect artistic’ freedom:

    Man’s ban from future museum site unconstitutional
    Publiziert am 6. April 2012 von Nietzer

    A local man wants a judge to void the Aspen Art Museum’s ban that prevents him from stepping foot on property owned by the institution.

    Lee Mulcahy filed a lawsuit against Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the museum’s director and curator, in Pitkin County Court on Thursday. The lawsuit, which seeks $250, says his ban from the museum’s future location, an empty lot at Hopkins Avenue and Spring Street, is unconstitutional.

    The artist and former ski instructor apparently ran afoul of the museum in November. Detractors of the museum’s relocation into downtown hung “For Sale” signs on two tractor-trailers at the future site. The museum’s manager told police that he had video footage of Mulcahy hanging the signs, according to an officer’s report.

    Mulcahy’s lawsuit against Zuckerman Jacobson contains a letter to The Aspen Times from Aspen resident Richie Cohen in which Cohen admits to hanging the “For Sale” signs. The court filing also mentions Zuckerman Jacobson’s comments to the Aspen Daily News about the vandalism. She said in November that the museum would be installing lights and cameras on the new site to deter similar acts.

    She also referenced the signs on display in New York City subways — “If you see something, say something,” she said at the time, encouraging people to call police or the museum if they witness suspicious activity.

    “To protest this treatment of the community, the plaintiff created an art piece, wrote a letter criticizing [Zuckerman Jacobson] entitled ‘Criminal or Hilarious?’ and … painted ‘Meet the Art Police,’” Mulcahy wrote in the court filing.

    Mulcahy, representing himself, says in the lawsuit that on another occasion, he taped a “citation from the citizens of Aspen” and a piece of art inspired by Occupy Wall Street “onto the museum’s sign and surveillance camera pole.”

    He was later told that he had been banned from the vacant lot.

    Mulcahy, who on Wednesday filed a libel lawsuit against Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan in connection with the plaintiff’s dismissal from the company in January 2011, cites the First Amendment in his suit against Zuckerman Jacobson.

    The amendment “is designed to protect artistic and other expressive activities from petty tyranny,” the lawsuit says.

    Asked for comment about both lawsuits, Mulcahy late Thursday sent an email containing quotes from former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. He did not respond to additional efforts to reach him Friday.
    Because of the museum’s nonprofit status, Mulcahy apparently considers the future site to be public property.

    As such, he and others who similarly disagree with museum officials’ plans “will be chilled and burdened in the exercise of [their] First Amendment rights because of the continued threat of arrest on public property,” the lawsuit says. “The ban is unconstitutionally overboard in that it renders subject to incarceration and other treatment persons who are ‘very verbal’ about the museum….”

    Dieser Beitrag wurde unter Allgemein, Klage abgelegt und mit Aspen Art Museum’s ban, Most ridiculous Lawsuits, Nietzer&Häusler, petty tyranny, protect artistic, punitive damages, rechtsanwalt amerikanisches Recht, US Recht, Wirtschaftskanzlei Heilbronn Franken verschlagwortet. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink.

    From Lee Mulcahy to the Aspen Art Museum:

    Dear Aspen Art Museum and Philanthropist Paula Crown, student at the SAIC and PhD candidate in… art,

    Since art is by its definition indefinable, let me help your understanding with some quotes from my recent gigs in Berlin:

    “Artists are citizens, artists are social and political subjects. There is no border between art and life, art and society.” -Artur Zmijewski
    [“Artur Żmijewski (born 26 May 1966 in Warsaw) is a Polish visual artist, filmmaker and photographer. During the years of 1990-1995 he studied at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He is an author of short video movies and photography exhibitions, which were shown all over the world. Since 2006 he s artistic editor of the “Krytyka Polityczna”.
    His solo show If It Happened Only Once It’s As If It Never Happened was at “Kunsthalle Basel” in 2005, the same year in which he represented Poland at the 51st Venice Biennale. He has shown in Documenta 12 (2007), and Manifesta 4 (2002); Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco (2012, 2005); National Gallery of Art Zacheta, Warsaw (2005); Kunstwerke, Berlin (2004); CAC, Vilnius (2004); “Moderna Museet”, Stockholm (1999). Earlier this year he presented Democracies at “Foksal Gallery Foundation”, Warsaw; and is making new work for The Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York as part of their Projects’ Series in September 2009. “Cornerhouse”, Manchester, will also present the first major UK survey of Zmijewski’s work, spanning his practice from 2003 to the present day, from November 2009 – January 2010.”-wikipedia]

    or……..”Forget passivity” by Sarah Handyside in the magazine Exberliner, issue 105:
    “The 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art not only comments on politics-it provides a platform for political action and collective participation. As promised, rabble-rousing video artist Artur Zmijewski and co-curator Joanna Warsza are blurring the line between art and action at this year’s Biennale. They’ve invited Occupy activists to take over the entire first floor of the KW building…. Ambitiously, Zmijewski and Warsza are also launching TheGlobalSquare.org, a decentralized, open-source network that endeavours to unite all social movements into one seamless global collaboration….”

    or the Institute Svizzero di Roma’s P/ACT for Art: Solidarity Action @ the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art:

    “Art can activate forms of dissent and critical thought regarding the global system.”-Teresa Macri

    “If artists should be honoured to be hosted by a museum, there is an idea of culture understood as a form of entertainment.”-Maria ROsa Sossai, Art critic and curator, Rome.
    “Getting beyond individualism means to starting to exist politically, in a form of solidarity capable of opposing the utraliberal dictates that usually govern the art world.”-Laurent Faulon, artist, Rome.

    From one of the exhibits @Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art’s 2012 7th Berlin Biennale: “In history, it has been seen that artistic innovation tends to flourish,to a great extent, where economic liberalism is most inventive and uncontrolled. The status of the artist is based on social conditions neoliberalism would like to offer workers as a whole. Besides a near total lack of social guarantees, this hypercompetitive system produces a situation of general submission to the system….”

    “I am forced to orient my production between a luxury product for collectors and an accessory with a social function that is justifiable in terms of public expenditure, the control I have over its political and social role decreases in proportion to the acclaim it is able to gain. Starting with this observation, it seems out of place to expect an explicitly political commitment from the content of my work, without running the risk of seeing it as a mere motive or alibi….” – Laurent Faulon, Artist, Lives and works at the Instituto Svizzero di Roma

    Hope this helps, Lee Mulcahy phd

  2. This post Don and Mera Rubell: collecting masterpieces | The Collector Tribune was a good read so I Tweeted it to hopefully give you more readers. thanks. Johnny Debt

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