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New Rubell Museum Hopes To Show More Public Face Of Art Collector Family

Katie Lepri
Mera and Don Rubell

For more than a quarter century, the Rubell family has shown its extensive art collection in a building in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. The space, the Rubell Family Collection, was well established years before the neighborhood took an arts-centric pivot over the last decade.

For the art collector family, Wynwood became home. Living quarters for Mera and Don Rubell were built within the same complex. 

But that home has moved on. In a pivotal moment for the family and for the art scene in South Florida, the Rubell family is opening the 100,000 square foot Rubell Museum in the Allapattah neighborhood, about a mile and a half from the old space in Wynwood.

The museum is massive, with high ceilings and wide open spaces, a full restaurant, cafe and an art library that is open to the public with an appointment. For the opening, the Rubells are pulling out sure crowd pleasers from their collection. Two "Infinity" rooms from 90-year old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are on display; the arrival of a mere one of these rooms drew hours-long lines in New York when it went on display last month.

WLRN recently visited the new museum as it prepared to open its doors on Wednesday, December 4.

The following is an interview art collector Mera Rubell. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

WLRN: For 26 years, you had a space in Wynwood. And then now you're opening a new space in Allapattah. You changed the name from the Rubell Family collection to the Rubell Museum. Why did you make that name change?

RUBELL: Because we would meet people after 26 years who'd said they'd never been there. And we said, 'well, why?' They say, well, ‘I never got an invitation.’ It never occurred to them that a collection was a public space that you can just walk into and see that and see the art. 

Our intention was to make it accessible to the public, and we felt the calling it a ‘collection’ really created a barrier that was that was totally misunderstood. I mean, people know what a museum is.

I will say, one thing we want to be clear about is that we took the ‘family’ out of the name, but we didn’t take ourselves out of the picture. This is still a family-run organization.

How long has the Rubell Museum been in the works, in this form?

Well, it wasn't really a big strategic plan. We were looking for storage. So we went looking, and at the end what we found was just too good for storage. And we thought ‘what if.’ It's very dangerous when you say, well, ‘what if.’ We said it because we have one gallery that has a seventy foot space without a column. That's ideal for one of the sculptures that we could never install, because we never had a 70 foot span in the old building.

What kind of exhibitions are you opening your doors with on opening day?

We are presenting the critical moments in our 55 year history of collecting contemporary art. 

We were fortunate to be at these moments in these places at the right moment, at the right time, meaning we were fortunate to be in L.A. to see the Helter Skelter show. We were there for that East Village moment. We were there for the brilliant show in London that featured Damian Hirst, Sarah Lucas. We were there in SoHo when Richard Prince emerged. And at some point we go to Europe. We go to Cologne. Cologne became a big influence for us.

What we did here is to dig deep into the sources of our inspiration in terms of local artists being featured here. In each one of these critical exhibitions that we witnessed is represented.

Of course, you have a lot of artists from New York, from L.A., and some local artists. How much prominence is given to local artists on your walls?

Credit Katie Lepri / WLRN
Mera Rubell at the Rubell Museum

We never go out looking for women, black people -- we never go looking for race or nationality or sexuality. We try to find the best art that we can find. 

And the same way for local artists. We’re not looking for local artists. Local artists have to be compelling for us to collect, and we have many local artists here. A piece of Mark Handforth is going to be installed where you enter. Work from Dara Friedman is going to be here. We did a big exhibition of Hernan Bas which went to the Brooklyn Museum, and we have a catalog of his work. Purvis Young -- Purvis Young is one of the great masters of Miami art, and we have a variety of his work here.

We collect local art in the same way that we collect any other art -- when it’s compelling and we just have to. And it happens all the time.

The more international attention you bring to Miami, the more it opens the door for local artists to go elsewhere.

For a first time visitor that walks in here for the first time, maybe who never visited the family collection -- what do you hope they experience out of this?

I hope people experience the joy and the meaningfulness of art and how it can actually give you something for your life that has tremendous meaning.

You’re not going to relate to every work of art, but that which you relate to will open a new way of looking at something that perhaps you’ve never explored. Great art is very very personal. And great art touches you in a way that brings about a very intimate conversation between yourself and the universe.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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