The Rubell Family Collection (RFC) was the first major private contemporary art collection to open a public space, back in 1993, in a two-story refurbished warehouse in Wynwood. That move would be a trend setter, as other collectors opened their own spaces, eventually leaving an imprint on the scene that has made Miami a unique art center.
But being the first isn’t really what continues to make RFC such a world-class destination when it comes to contemporary art. Every year, a new show is unveiled during Art Basel Miami Beach, which runs through the following summer and never fails to surprise us. It’s not just the quality of the works, from significant artists both famous and emerging, but the way the shows broaden our perspective – more often than not you will leave the place with a better understanding of a variety of strains in contemporary art.
The latest exhibit, Alone Together, does not disappoint. The grouping of more than three dozen artists features many disciplines, from various “schools” of art. To further the mission of educating the public about these artworks, and art in general, this year RFC offers a free audio tour in both English and Spanish, some of it narrated by the artists themselves. It was designed to be used on a smart phone, but not to worry if you don’t have one; the collection provides complimentary iPods for your tour. It would be a shame to pass up this accompaniment.
You would miss, for instance, some fun facts about the astounding, massive painted triptych from Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi – the focal point of the exhibit, in the main space just to the left of the entrance. The scale of the paintings is overwhelming, the works layered – really piled on – with oils. Stand in front of these towering paintings, and the abstracts start to take shape resembling water falls or mountainsides collapsing under landslides. With the audio, you’ll discover that each one weighs 800 pounds, and that Zhu uses entire cans of paint, rather than tubes, to create these truly monumental works. (Apparently, shipping them from China was a monumental task as well).
They are titled Power and Country, clearly tying Zhu’s work to his native land, which is undergoing such huge change while emerging as a global power.
Painting is a major player in the whole exhibit, with examples from global artists who reveal the diversity of the current form. In the adjoining room, for instance, are several large paintings from Spanish artist Secundino Hernandez. They are fresh, playful abstracts, but again some narrative can be discerned; you’ll likely see why one painting is named Wimbledon.
In the biggest space of all, still on the first floor, are more giant paintings, this time from the young Colombian Oscar Murillo. However, this area is a separate exhibit, as the works here are a product of a five-week residency in 2012, called “Oscar Murillo: work.” According to RFC director Juan Roselione-Valadez, observing Murillo’s creation process was a show in itself. He recalls the walls and floors chaotically plastered over with paint and canvas, the materials of his street-inspired pieces, which often include scribbled text such as “mango” or “chorizo.” Roselione-Valadez would come in the next day and the artist had torn everything up and started over again. The final result is the first solo show in the United States for Murillo, who is now based in London.