The story of Don and Mera Rubell, two of the most influential and perhaps most beloved contemporary art collectors of our time, typically unfolds with a rote sequence of numbers: The year they married and started collecting (1964); the modest budget they first devoted to buying art ($25, a quarter out of Mera’s weekly teacher’s salary); and the year they opened the Rubell Family Collection to present their holdings to the public (1993). By their latest tally, the Rubells own about 7,200 works by more than 1,000 artists, and that number grows by the hundreds every year.
On Wednesday, the Rubell Family Collection officially reopens there under a new roof and a new name: the Rubell Museum, a 100,000-square-foot campus of 40 galleries, a library, and a restaurant in a former food processing complex refurbished by Selldorf Architects.
According to Mera, the Rubells bought their former DEA warehouse looking to consolidate their collection, not to show it. At the time, maintaining their constellation of storage units in New York “was costing us a lot of money,” she recalls, “and it was literally like having your children in an orphanage.” Their son Jason, who had just exhibited his own collection as his senior thesis at Duke, encouraged them to open a private museum, and today, each acquisition requires the unanimous approval of all three.
The Rubell Family Collection was one of the first private museums of contemporary art in America, a phenomenon that’s been growing more prominent around the world, even as public museum funding is on the decline. In Miami especially, where private museums abound, museum leaders expressed fears of such institutions cannibalizing opportunities for public institutions.