Donald and Mera Rubell, founders of one of the world’s largest privately-owned contemporary art collections, began their acquisitions with modest means. Now, The Rubell Family Collection features a constantly expanding roster of works by such internationally-known artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol.
Watch Donald and Mera Rubell talk to genConnect about how they went from small-time art aficionados to world-class collectors:
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When the couple began buying works from emerging artists in 1964, Donald was a medical student and Mera was a Head Start teacher.
“We would take walks in our neighborhood, at the time it was 8th Avenue and 24th Street (in New York), and discover artists (working) in these storefronts because the economy in the ‘60s was pretty rough,” Mera told genConnect.
Donald says the artists welcomed into their studios the enthusiastic newlyweds, who were basically penniless. “What we discovered was being an artist is a very lonely activity,” he says. “So that they would do anything to have us come back again. So we said, ‘We’ll pay you $5 a week (for an artwork)’ and they said, ‘Fine you have to come back for the next 120 weeks.’”
He says the couple did pay the artists a fair price for their works, many of which are now considered masterpieces. “We just took longer to pay for them.”
Mera says she and her husband established long-term relationships with emerging artists and helped establish community.
“It’s just about trusting time and passion,” she says.
“The most important thing we understood early is all art was once contemporary,” Donald says of the beginnings of the couple’s art journey. “There was a moment when they (internationally known artists) were making their young art, and their best art, frequently. I remember we were at the Whitney Museum (of American Art) at the (Robert) Rauschenberg retrospective and we were walking around with him; and he looked at some of his incredible young work and said, ‘I wish I knew the artist that made that work.’”
Exhibited in a 45,000-square-foot repurposed Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated goods facility in Miami, The Rubell Family Collection also actively acquires, exhibits and champions emerging artists working at the forefront of contemporary art. The Rubells also created The Contemporary Arts Foundation in 1994 to expand their collection’s public mission within the framework of a contemporary art museum.
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