How the Rubells Built an Empire Out of Minting Art Stars

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What do Sterling Ruby, Oscar Murillo, Kennedy Yanko, Genesis Tramaine, and Aomoako Boafo have in common? Beyond being some of the most sought-after contemporary artists of the past decade, they are all veterans of the prestigious Rubell Museum Residency program.

Helmed by its namesake founders, the mega-collecting duo Don and Mera Rubell, the residency program is something of a hit-maker—call it “the Rubell effect.” Beyond minting art-market stars, the Rubells now have two museums, a 100,000 square-foot campus with more than 50,000 square feet dedicated to galleries in Miami’s Allapattah district, and a newly opened 32,000-square-foot outpost in Southwest Washington, DC

The couple’s art collecting began when they were newlyweds and would squirrel away $25 from Mera’s teaching salary to put toward acquisitions while Don was in medical school. Now, along with their son Jason and daughter Jennifer, they own one of the largest private collections of contemporary art in the world, with more than 7,400 works of art by the likes of Kehinde Wiley, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Catherine Opie.

On the heels of their DC museum’s grand opening, and just weeks before they will hold court at Art Basel in Miami Beach, Artnet News’s senior reporter Katya Kazakina caught up with Don, Jason, and Mera to discuss the origins of their collection, the symbiotic relationship between art and real estate, and their famous Midas touch for sussing out the hottest emerging artists.

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