Names: Mera & Don Rubell
Ages: 68 & 71
Occupation: Hoteliers; Founders of the Rubell Family Collection
City/Neighborhood: Wynwood, Miami
What project are you working on now?
“American Exuberance,” the new show at the Rubell Family Collection.
Your exhibition "American Exuberance," opening during Art Basel Miami Beach, features artists reflecting on and engaging with the American experience. How would you describe your own American experiences?
Don: My father was a postman and teaching tennis pro, and my mother was a schoolteacher. I played competitive tennis as a child and young man, and the first art collectors I ever met were the parents of my doubles partner when I was a kid. Before that, I didn't even know that private individuals collected art. Seeing their collection gave me a concrete dream, and being an American gave me the possibility of actually realizing that outrageous ambition.
Mera: I came to the United States at the age of 12 as a poor immigrant who didn't speak English. I experienced endless generosity, especially from teachers, who immediately began to ingrain the idea of the American dream in me. I am very much the product of American public education, and I myself was a teacher in the first Head Start program. What I came to understand is that your individual talents and strengths can triumph over whatever weaknesses, real or perceived, you might have.
This is Art Basel's 10th edition in Miami. As longtime residents of Miami, how have you seen the fair change the city's art scene? Has it been all for the better?
Together: We opened our foundation about eight years before Art Basel arrived, so it's very easy for us to see the changes that have come about as a direct result of the fair. The strongest impact has been in Miami's perception of itself as a center of contemporary art.
What advice do you have for collectors coming to the fair this year?
What are you especially excited for this year?
Discovering things we haven't seen before.
You're working on opening a space for your collection in Washington, D.C. Are there any similarities at all between the D.C. art scene and the one in Miami?
Every city is unique, and every art scene is unique. What makes D.C. so unique are the great museums and the many educational institutions; plus D.C. has 35 million visitors a year, and the majority of them visit museums. There is also a growing base of collectors and working artists.
What's the last show that you saw?
Sherrie Levine at the Whitney in New York.
What's the last show that surprised you? Why?
Maurizio Cattelan's retrospective at the Guggenheim, because he had the courage to forego a victory lap. Instead, he turned his retrospective into a new piece that both sums up his entire life's work and creates a whole new conversation about the vulnerable nature of art and artists.
What's your favorite place to see art?
The Prado Museum in Madrid and the Flemish Primitive Collection in Bruges.
What's the most indispensable item in your office?
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
The art world is a far larger place than when we started collecting art, and since the only way to understand art is to go to the place where the art is made, we spend more and more of our time traveling to places as diverse as Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
Do you collect anything?
What's the last artwork you purchased?
It’s a dead heat between work by Joel Kyack and new works by Kaari Upson and Rashid Johnson.
What's the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
Our daughter's head made out of cheese, melting onto a pedestal of crackers at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
What's your art-world pet peeve?
Museums that are closed when you get there.
What's your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
Dim Sum Go-Go, in New York’s Chinatown.
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
In a new city, we always go to galleries first to warm up our palette.
What's the last great book you read?
“Curious George,” with our grandchildren, and “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.
What work of art do you wish you owned?
The next one we're going to collect.
What would you do to get it?
Remain open to new ideas.
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
India, because we've never been there.
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
Some of the artists who are over 50 years old in our “American Exuberance” show like John Miller and Richard Jackson.
What’s your favorite artwork?
Gerard David’s “Flaying of the Unjust Judge” that we saw in Bruges.
What are your hobbies?
Grandchildren, tennis, cooking, reading, and Ken-Ken.