Treasures: Miami’s best private art museums

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Miami is rich in museums, with more to see than anyone can easily see on a single trip. The magnificent Bass, one of Miami Beach’s Art Deco gems; the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which features international works from the 20th and 21st centuries with a strong emphasis on service to the diverse communities of Miami-Dade County; Miami Institute of Contemporary Art; the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum (they also created a wonderful science museum) and more. There is even, if you will, a Bay of Pigs museum.

Other highlights can be found in Wynwood – also known as the Art District – where several visionary collectors have turned once shabby or abandoned industrial sites and warehouses into glittering temples of contemporary art and design open to the public. Some have educational programs and outreach programs to young people and disadvantaged communities that match those of many public galleries around the world – and the range of art on display is certainly world class.

Wynwood Walls, Miami's open-air museum of international street art
Wynwood Walls, Miami’s open-air museum of international street art © Alamy

The Art District started out as all creative hubs do – informally at first, in a neighborhood that had a large, inexpensive, semi-abandoned property just for an imaginative makeover. A decade or more, its identity has been formalized with an urban master plan and poles that focus its mission for fashion, design and architecture as well as contemporary art.

The tone was set years ago by property developer Tony Goldman’s international outdoor street art museum, Wynwood Walls: open-air, accessible and, of course, free for everyone. A neighborhood that despite all the renovations can still seem quite dark (semi-abandoned out of season when many art venues are closed), Wynwood is no stranger to graffiti of all kinds. But here the form is celebrated and elevated into a whole different realm, with exhibits bringing together some of the biggest names in street art – Shepherd Fairey, Kenny Scharf and others. With recent expansions in Wynwood Doors and Garden, and now under the direction of Jessica, Goldman’s daughter, Wynwood Walls has grown into a respected “street museum” and a delight to visitors.

Elsewhere, collectors have gone for slightly more lavish construction and renovation options.

Rubell Museum

1100 NW 23 Street, Miami, FL 33127

The 100,000 square foot Rubell Museum in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami. . . © Nicholas Venezia, courtesy of Selldorf Architects

Mera and Don Rubell at the Rubell Museum - behind them is Lucy Dodd's

. . . houses the 7,000-person collection of Mera and Don Rubell. Behind them, ‘Guernika’ by Lucy Dodd © Melanie Metz

Don and Mera Rubell have been well-known figures on the international art circuit for over 50 years during which they amassed their remarkable collection, which is now assembled at the Rubell Museum. They started this journey in the 1960s, they say, by “trusting their instincts” – and persuading dealers to let them pay in installments. While that last part might be different these days, the urge to collect continues, and now their son Jason has joined the family art project.

One of the largest private open collections in the United States, it was opened to the public 28 years ago as the Rubell Family Collection, in Wynwood. In 2019, it moved into a massive new 100,000 square foot ‘campus’, located in a former industrial building in the Allapattah neighborhood that has been beautifully transformed into the kind of fresh, flamboyant, white-walled spaces we expect the best contemporary museums in the world. This astounding collection boasts over 7,000 works – in several dozen separate gallery spaces you can find paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos, many by today’s big names: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cecily Brown, Keith Haring, Rashid Johnson, Hayv Kahraman, Jeff Koons, William Kentridge, Yoshitomo Nara, Cindy Sherman and Mickalene Thomas are just a few. The focus is on Cuban and Latin American artists; for many people, some of these names will be discoveries. A permanent display is complemented by special rotating exhibitions, all from the collection itself.

'Bird on Money' (1981) by Jean-Michel Basquiat was acquired by the Rubells in 1981
‘Bird on Money’ (1981) by Jean-Michel Basquiat was acquired by the Rubells in 1981 © Rubell Museum

But why, despite the size and scope of the collection, did they change their name and call it a “museum”? The answer is they thought it made it clearer to the world that it was wide open to the public, not an elitist private enclave. The Rubells and their longtime director Juan Roselione-Valadez see the place as “a new kind of institution”, a public resource with programs for schools and diverse young people as well as an exhibition experience. This is an absolute must see for any art lover visiting Miami. (Website; instructions)

Collection of the Cruz

23 NE 41st Street, Miami, FL 33137

“Untitled” (1995) by Félix Gonzalez-Torres is a display installation on the facade of the Collection de la Cruz

“Untitled” (1995) by Félix González-Torres is a display installation on the facade of the Collection de la Cruz © Felix Gonzalez-Torres, courtesy of the Félix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Courtesy of the Collection de la Cruz.

The 2021-22 exhibition at the “There Is Always One Direction” gallery features works by (left to right) Martin Kippenberger, Dana Schutz, Rufino Tamayo and Shara Hughes

The 2021-22 exhibition at the “There Is Always One Direction” gallery features works by (left to right) Martin Kippenberger and Rufino Tamayo © Courtesy of the Collection de la Cruz

Another notable collector couple, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz – they met as a teenager in their native Havana decades ago, and married in 1962 – have built a gallery in Miami’s Design District. in 2009 to share their contemporary art collection. The couple had started collecting at their Miami home in the 1980s, as they were also building their bottling and distribution business empire, and began opening the home to art lovers by appointment. As the project grew, the need for space resulted in a beautiful 30,000 square foot gallery to showcase the cream of the collection, which includes works by Glenn Ligon, Isa Genzken, Christopher Wool, Félix González -Torres, Mark Bradford, Peter Doig and many others. Their mission statement includes a desire to show work that “addresses issues of identity, gender, class, power and values ​​that contribute to our social fabric,” they said, and their gallery also offers a sparkling experience to visitors. such as conferences, annual scholarships and other aid to local communities. (Website; instructions)

Margulies collection at the warehouse

591 NW 27th Street, Miami, Florida 33127

The Martin Z Margulies collection includes the

The Martin Z Margulies collection includes the “Seated Woman” by Willem de Kooning (1969-81… © Courtesy of the Margulies Collection and the artist’s estate

.  .  .  and 'Sprache der Vogel' (1989) by Anselm Kiefer - an exhibition dedicated to the German artist is currently on display at the Espace

. . . and ‘Sprache der Vogel’ (1989) by Anselm Kiefer – an exhibition dedicated to the German artist is currently on display at the space © Courtesy of the artist and the Margulies Collection

Another powerful set of converted industrial spaces in Wynwood houses this collection created by Martin Z Margulies. It opened to the public in 1999 and has grown over the years to its current, incredibly ambitious scale, with giant works in sculpture, painting, and other genres. Once again, there is no shortage of big international names: Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Olafur Eliasson, Franz West, Song Dong. . . the list goes on. This is a collection of exceptional quality: a special treat is a range of magnificent first pieces by Anselm Kiefer. More recently, Martin Margulies has turned to photography and the collection funds are now being sought for loans to museums around the world. Stunning historical and more recent photographic works include a special set of 200 images of Helen Levitt, an intimate look at life in New York’s most difficult neighborhoods in the 1930s-1970s.

'Wall on Wall Paint' (2003) by the late Austrian artist Franz West can also be seen at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse
‘Wall on Wall Paint’ (2003) by the late Austrian artist Franz West can also be seen at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse © Johansen Krause / Courtesy of the Maguelies Collection

The Margolies Warehouse holds special exhibitions and educational programs, as well as its international loan program, and is open to the public from October to April. To give an idea of ​​the extent of this remarkable place, this fall there are special exhibitions by Susan Philipsz, Anselm Keifer, Arte Povera, European photographs from the 1920s-1950s and more. Do not miss. (Website; instructions)

Jan Dalley is the Arts Editor of the FT

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