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The Rubells: 50 years and looking to the future

The collectors celebrate their wedding anniversary with a new exhibition

This year marks five decades since Don and Mera Rubell married and started their contemporary art collection—now one of the world’s largest. But while the anniversary exhibition in their 45,000 sq. ft museum differs from the usual thematic presentations, the Rubells were determined it would not be an exercise in nostalgia.

“The first impulse was to do a show that reflects our 50 years. Then we said, wait a minute, does this mean we only look back? That seemed a total contradiction to the way we experience art,” Mera Rubell says.

As newlyweds, the couple set themselves a budget ($25 from their total $100 weekly income) to buy original works by the “undiscovered and unchampioned” artists they encountered in New York. They were among the first collectors of Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons.

In “To Have and to Hold”, these early discoveries will share the Miami museum’s galleries with more recent purchases from Europe-based artists including Rosemarie Trockel and Marlene Dumas, as well as emerging artists like Josh Kline, Michail Pirgelis and Lior Shvil. Most of the 100 works by 40 artists selected will be displayed with statements that the artists contributed to a new catalogue.

As a further challenge for their 50th anniversary, the Rubells decided to “do what we did with Oscar Murillo”, Mera says. “Could we find someone that we could fall in love with, give them a space and say ‘knock yourselves out’?” They ended up commissioning new, large-scale bodies of work from not one but six artists: Will Boone, Aaron Curry, Lucy Dodd, Mark Flood, David Ostrowski and Kaari Upson.

One of these will be a mystery even to the Rubells until it is unveiled for Art Basel in Miami Beach. Dodd, a New York-based painter, has embarked on a full-size interpretation of Picasso’s Guernica in the largest gallery (where Murillo worked in residence in 2012), Mera says. “What is her Guernica going to look like? I’ve got no idea. Is this exciting or what?”

• To Have and to Hold: 50 Years of Marriage and Collecting Contemporary Art, Rubell Family Collection, until 31 August 2015