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The collector’s habitat

It’s one thing to collect art. It’s another to live with it day to day. Do you keep it in storage, away from the ravages of humidity and clumsy guests? Ameliorate your passion for acquisition by donating it to museums or building your own? Or do you tromp over the staircase installation by Assume Vivid Astro Focus (as one collecting couple did for years) and keep your whimsical Ellsworth Kelly sculpture in the kitchen where you can have coffee with it every day?

Here are five local collectors who have opted for communing with beloved works, transforming them from decoration to constant reminders of their passion and desire for art.


Passion for design

For the driving force behind the bi-continental Design Miami\ global design forum, design is more than professional pursuit; it is a 24-hour passion showcased in his real estate developments, office, attire and contemporary art collection. At home, it includes his favorite chair, a Wendell Castle rocker.

Make no mistake: This is not your grandfather’s rocking chair. Wendell Castle’s Crescent Rocker hugs the Dacra CEO like a Recaro bucket seat. “It looks more like a racecar than a rocking chair,” Robins says. Crafted in 1976, Robins’ rocker is a bicentennial beauty. Its burnished walnut runners resemble the Nike swoosh, swooping up to form arm rests and around the back to add sophistication and support. Castle, hailed as the brainchild of the American art furniture movement, created the equivalent of comfort food for the body when he designed the Crescent Rocker. “It’s ergonomically perfect,” says Robins, who bought the chair four years ago at Design Miami\. “To sit and read, it kind of puts me in just the ideal position to be comfortable and read on it,” he says. As a man so often on the go, Robins also enjoys the movement the chair affords. “It’s hard for me to sit still sometimes.”



Graffiti worth preserving

The hacienda-style house that abuts the Biltmore Hotel golf course has a lot to recommend it. Johnny Weissmuller, aka Tarzan, used to swim in its pool when he owned the place. The current residents — Marvin Ross Friedman and Adrienne bon Haes — created their own history there when they hosted a 70th birthday party for American painter Robert Rauschenberg in 1996. As the party wound down, three of pop art’s best known protagonists – artists Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, as well as their legendary and dapper dealer, Leo Castelli – were among the last to leave. And they left their mark. In the contemporary art world’s equivalent of “Kilroy Was Here,” they took a black marker and signed their names and little notes on a wall near the front door. Lichtenstein also drew a sunrise and added his signature dots between the rays; Rosenquist included a palm tree on a beach.

“I just consider it a memento,” says Friedman, a lawyer and longtime private art dealer. “It’s not something momentous, but marks a halcyon moment with old friends.” The following morning, he considered calling his house painter to return the wall to its pristine coral color, but he thought better of it. Ten years later, when Rauschenberg returned to celebrate his 80th birthday, he saw the wall and wondered why his name wasn’t up there. Wheelchair-bound and recovering from a stroke, he wrote in a shaky hand, “BOB.” “If one is a student of the times and has an appreciation of the people, then it becomes something special,” Friedman says of the foyer art. It’s also history; all save Rosenquist have moved on to the great beyond.



Wearable works

On that momentous evening, Bon Haes supplied the felt marker, which was supposed to be used to sign the birthday card she had made for Rauschenberg. In an amusing homage to the artist’s famous “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” which now hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, she attached a Post-it note to the card, imploring, “Please do not erase this.”

Her humor and sensibility imbue her daily life in a visual and tangible elegance. She combs the world in search of unusual fabrics to create unique garments, which she wears as the mood strikes. “I do all of my stitching, mostly by hand,” she says of her meticulous handiwork. While in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul she found a silk-and-cotton Ikat panel from 19th century Uzbekistan. Like a sculptor who sees an image in a block of wood, bon Haes transformed the tapestry print into a floor-length gown with bell sleeves and a skirt that flounces around a red crinoline skirt.

An eternal beauty, bon Haes looks good even in a laundry bag. She literally took two laundry bags and made a wearable souvenir from her stay at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, India – familiar to James Bond fans as Octopussy’s lair.



Waking to words of wisdom

John Joseph Lin rearranges the artwork in the master bedroom of his Miami Beach condo every week. Blame it on the blaring music from the upstairs neighbor. A Friday night ritual of pulsating telenovela-style music reverberates through the walls, setting askew the 46 framed text messages from Clifford Owens’ “Text Pieces.” The texts – some just a word, others a run-on of expletives beginning with the letter “F” – were sent to friends while the artist was undergoing a divorce. “I just think it’s funny,” Lin says, explaining that once the frames need to be straightened, he simply rearranges them on the wall. Read from top to bottom in rows of eight, the words often reveal different meanings, depending on how they are coupled. “Every time I move them I see something new,” he says.

An event programmer who runs his own company, Lin Projects, he once aspired to be a poet. Perhaps that’s another reason the words resonate with him. He finds the white letters on a black background soothing for the bedroom. They complement the text-laden Marina Font print, “Everything I have ever,’’ which hangs above his modular bed. The Dayton Hudson Santa Bear that he has owned since age 9 lies tucked up to its chin under a pale lavender duvet. The first thing Lin sees in the morning is the view from his window of Flagler Monument Island and its obelisk. “When I wake up I stare at my view, and I stare at that,” he says, pointing to the Owens texts.



Art all around

In some bayfront houses, the water is the main attraction. At the home of Worldwide Photo owner Mirielle Chancy-Gonzalez, it’s a mere backdrop to an extraordinary collection of artworks large and small. A rose made of Chinese currency by Chinese artist Mindy Lam sits on the coffee table; a massive canvas by Miamian Jose Bedia hangs on a living room wall, near a sculpture by local artist Barbara Neijnak. Photographs, maquettes, paintings, carvings, sculptures, musical instruments by artists from Miami, Haiti, across the Caribbean and Africa — Carlos Betancourt, Glexis Novoa, Eduoard Duval Carrie, Mariano Costa Peuser — fill the halls, powder room, bedrooms. “I even have art under my bed,” she says.

“When I see something I have a feeling about, I buy it,” she says. “I don’t speculate; whatever I buy, I keep.” Because she likes to live with her art, and because she has enough to fill two warehouses in addition to her home Chancy-Gonzalez rotates items in her house about every six months; white walls are easily repainted. “I look up, and I feel it’s time for a new environment.”

Her collection reflects her Miami experience. Born in Haiti, raised by an aunt in Paris, educated in Spain, Chancy-Gonzalez moved to Miami almost 45 years ago. She first began buying art to help an artist living in Haiti; as Miami became a Caribbean crossroads, her collection grew. Now she serves on the boards of numerous cultural institutions and is founder of the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance. Works from her collection have been used in numerous museum exhibitions — with more to come. “Now what I want to do is start documenting it all and donating to museums.”



Rescued, restored, renewed

The luxury liner theme of this Coconut Grove condo engulfs the visitor immediately after she steps off the elevator into Ella Fontanals-Cisneros’ penthouse with its panoramic views of the Biscayne Bay waterfront. The first thing you see as the elevator opens is the Anish Kapoor sculpture that resembles a large concave porthole bolted to the opposite wall. The untitled work’s resplendent and reflective blue draws one in, as if a portal to the sea. Turn right and you pass another wall sculpture, this one by Damian Hirst, called “The Body of Christ” and featuring a large pharmaceutical case with row after row of paracetamol pills daubed with cow’s blood.

Down the corridor are several works by Latin American artists, now synonymous with the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, which provides grants and arranges commissions for artists often displayed at Fontanals-Cisneros’ CIFO Art Space in downtown Miami. In a nook by the spiral staircase hangs a wire sculpture by Gertrude Goldschmidt, known as Gego, the German Jew who immigrated to Venezuela after Hitler revoked her citizenship. In a sense, Fontanals-Cisneros rescued the sculpture, which had been modified to suit its previous owner’s décor. “When I first saw it, it was originally painted red,” she says. Extensive restoration returned the work to its original unvarnished metal. Aptly named “Reticularea," the 8½ -foot sculpture casts a shadow of netlike geometric shapes on the wall behind the staircase. Just beyond the staircase is a wall dominated by a Jesús Rafael Soto kinetic sculpture. Stopping in front of it, Fontanals Cisneros laughs as she recalls purchasing a smaller work by the artist at a flea market in Toronto. “They were selling it for $350 Canadian dollars,” she says. “I figured if I didn’t haggle they might realize its worth. So, eventually, I got them down to $235 Canadian dollars.”