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The Rubells started collecting in 1964 on a budget of $25 a week, and their limited resources led them to focus on newer artists who were at the time unknown. Visiting the studios of rising artists is a tradition that they continue to this day. The Rubells don’t buy to sell: “In 50 years of collecting, we’ve put together over 5,000 pieces and we’ve sold less than 20,” Don Rubell once told the New York Times. (Somewhat controversially, they don’t buy to donate to museums either.) The couple’s massive collection of contemporary art includes works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, and Andy Warhol, and has been housed in a storied Rubell Family Collection exhibition space in Miami where they have often unveiled new shows during Art Basel Miami Beach.
“The heart of the matter is that art saved my life,” Mera Rubell said during a panel at the SP-Arte fair in São Paulo in 2015. “The fact of the matter is that it saved our marriage, it brought us together, it saved our family, because it’s constantly teaching us about who we are and somehow giving hope that there’s a future.” In December 2019, the Rubells will open the newest incarnation of their collection space as the Rubell Museum at 1100 Northwest 23rd Street. (“We feel we have graduated to a museum,” Rubell told ARTnews. “We really are a repository of what we believe represents the most significant art of our time.”) The 100,000-square-foot dwelling, designed by Selldorf Architects, offers room for 300-400 works to be on show with ample extra room for storage—the original impetus for it all. “We were just looking for storage, and we wound up with this extraordinary space,” Mera Rubell told ARTnews.