In the 11 years since its introduction to the city, the Art Basel Miami Beach fair (ABMB) is said to have transformed Miami entirely: before ABMB, the glorious art deco hotels that dot Miami Beach’s waterfront were left empty and decaying for years with plans for their demolition underway. Miami’s downtown districts, especially the retail area known as the Design District, were considered dangerous no-go zones, and resembled ghost towns as residents stopped strolling the streets and preferred to do their shopping in air-conditioned malls.

Two decades on, and almost every single beach hotel is renovated and operating in full capacity, while Miami’s Design District and Wynwood are bustling with galleries, bars, shops and some spectacular street art. Miami’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes may be linked to ABMB, but there are many strong personalities, like developer Craig Robins, who helped push the city forward with their vision. However, it is above all the city’s major art collectors who helped establish Miami as a serious art hot spot, with their support for young artists and patronage of the city’s museums. And since the connection between art and commerce is stronger in Miami than it is anywhere else, their philanthropy necessarily brought big investments with it. Sleek toured Miami’s downtown area to visit the city’s three most important collections.

The de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space 
Hailing from Cuba, the de la Cruz family made their fortune with bottling. Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz housed their extensive collection in their home for many years, until finally, in 2009, they built a new space to house their collection on the edge of the Design District. A large-scale enamel drip “stalactite” by Sterling Ruby welcomes visitors right by the entrance, and each floor in the expansive three storey white-cube building is characterized by a theme. Currently, the theme of the ground floor focuses on patterns and the laying bare of processes. Works by Wade Guyton, Thomas Houseago, Rudolf Stingel and Rashid Johnson, among others, are given the space and natural light they need. The roster on the second floor reads a little bit like a “shooting stars” list – not to say “trendy names of the art world”: works by Tauba Auerbach, Seth Price, Aaron Curry, and Alex Israel are displayed alongside pieces by Tom Burr, Rob Pruitt and Isa Genzken on the level dedicated to sculpture. “This year we gave considerable thought to the different ways in which to re-imagine our space”, Rosa de la Cruz writes in a statement. “The second floor was transformed into an indoor sculpture garden that brings to mind a public park.” Saving the best for last, it’s the third floor that offers the highlight of the visit. Here you will find large body of works by artists that the de la Cruz family has been collecting and supporting for many years, and so works on this floor expose a more personal truth about the collector’s preferences. The focus here is placed on Latin American artists like Félix González-Torres and Gabriel Orozco, while an entire section is dedicated to Cuban born Ana Mendieta. The primary purpose of this space is to provide education in the visual arts, and so visiting the collection, programs, lectures and the library is open to the public free of charge.

The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse 
Martin Z. Margulies is a self-made multi-millionaire and real estate developer, but when it comes to art, he doesn’t collect artworks as investments but rather out of deep engagement with the pieces. The impressive collection is housed in a converted warehouse in the Wynwood Art District. Katherine Hinds has been the curator of the collection since 1982, and maybe it’s thanks to her that the visit to the warehouse offers an entirely unique experience. By all means the district’s crown jewel, the collection showcases contemporary and vintage photography, video, sculpture, and installations in various genres including pop art, minimalism, and expressionism. A large sculpture by Anselm Kiefer occupies the entrance hall, which leads into a maze of rooms each filled with more great work by established artists as well as lesser-known names. But whether you recognize the artist’s name or not, you can be sure that the work is in the collection because of its own high quality, and not because of the name of its creator. Permanent works by Olafur Eliasson, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, Franz West, or Willem de Kooning give an idea of what names one can expect to encounter there nevertheless. Admission is $10, while all proceeds go directly to the Lotus House shelter for homeless women and children.

The Rubell Family Collection
The celebrities amongst Miami’s collectors, the Rubell Family collection (RFC) was started in New York, in 1964, shortly after Donald and Mera Rubell were married. Their monthly collecting budget then was $25. Almost half a century later, the Rubells have amassed an internationally renowned collection of approximately 5,000 works, including pieces by Kehinde Wiley, Ai Weiwei, Marilyn Minter, Elizabeth Peyton, and many more 20th and 21st-century artists. The Rubells were instrumental in bringing the Art Basel to Miami Beach, and through the Contemporary Arts Foundation, they present work from the collection for public viewing year-round. This is maybe the most eclectic of all three collections, but the Rubells never resell collected works either. The current show on the second floor explores the paradox confronted by artists who often work in isolation in their studios, but are defined and regarded in relation to a greater whole. The first floor offers a focus on Colombian artist Oscar Murillo and is the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States. It is comprised of paintings made by the artist in the summer of 2012 during a five-week residency at the RFC. During these five weeks he lived and worked at the Foundation using a 60-by-60-ft gallery and the sculpture garden as his studio. The Rubell’s word of advice to aspiring collectors? “Look, read, and commit.” Meaning, your homework will be done by seeing as much work as you can, and reading about art. “However, there is a moment of reckoning when you must commit to your first piece. It is not until you sit (better than standing) in front of your first piece that you can decide how much, or even if, you like it and how much it means to you.”

Additional information on the images above:

1 Richard Jackson – The Blue Room. 2011, Fiberglass, steel, wood, formica, urethane paint, acrylic, paint, canvas, wig, motor, rubber and control panel, Variable dimensions. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

5 John Miller – A Refusal to Accept Limits, 2007. Imitation gold leaf on various materials including plastic, objects, rope and plaster on fiberglass forms. Twenty elements: Variable dimensions, Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

10 Doug Aitken – Fountain (earth fountain), 2012. 53 7/8 x 78 3/8 x 36 inches. Collection Martin Z. Margulies.