Groupthink in Miami: Visiting the de la Cruz Collection

Last year, Jeffrey Kastner wrote in Artforum that Miami is “a city rife with available real estate, wealthy full- and part-time residents, and traditionally under-performing public institutions.” It is an urban area, Mr. Kastner noted, that is uniquely designed to foster the development of the private collector museums that have popped up across the contemporary art landscape in recent years.

This phenomenon is, on the one hand, a reason to cheer–visitors get to see of-the-moment art that is otherwise visible only by assiduously visiting the galleries of New York and Los Angeles (or international fairs). The downside–one of them–is that, in some cases, those visitors only get to see a fairly uniform, slim selection of the work that is filling those galleries and fairs. Big money thinks alike, plays it safe.

Case in point: the de la Cruz and Rubell Family collections (Gallerist looked at the latter’s current, bewildering exhibition yesterday). The two are located a bit less than a mile apart in Miami, and at the moment, they both have work by many of the same artists on display, including Thomas Houseago, Jacob Kassay, Kelley Walker, Sterling Ruby, Nate Lowman, Christopher Wool, Aaron Cury, Seth Price, Rashid Johnson and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, among them.

Visits are not, in other words, opportunities to discover new artists, though the close parallels between the public exhibitions make it a guilty pleasure to compare the work, to see who has the (slightly) more adventurous taste–or who is given access by dealers to the choicer pieces.

The Rubell’s Kassays are his early silver paintings, fully certified secondary-market classics by now. The de la Cruzes have a silver Kassay, but they also have some of the supremely and excitingly weird work that he recently showed at Mitchell-Innes & Nash: all-white monochromes and a rectangular sculpture made of wood and fabric.

The de la Cruzes’ towering Ruby stalagmite wins over the Rubells’ four spray-painted Ruby canvases, though the Rubells’ red bronze, rusty and gritty Houseago beats the de la Cruzes smaller, sleeker, somewhat facile white ones, in our book. In the Wool contest, the Rubells have a major text piece (“CAT IN BAG BAGS IN RIVER,” it reads), while the de la Cruzes have a flurry of strong¬† abstract works. Take your pick. The Rashid Johnsons are also a draw–they both have extremely similar and extremely great wood paintings that have been branded with fierce, sharp burns.

Such similarities aside, the de la Cruz warehouse has its pleasant quirks, its blue-chip surprises. They have some of Rudolf Stingel’s recent decorative silver paintings (like those shown at Gagosian) and have on view some of the color-rich tables, paint cans and printed paintings that Guyton/Walker showed at Greene Naftali in 2009. They also, during public viewing hours, had delicious butter-rich madeleines, large trays of cookies and coffee for all comers.

It is a magisterial building: three large floors devoted to public exhibitions, their ceilings lofted to accommodate even the fattest sculptures, the most gargantuan paintings. It is just a shame that some of today’s most visible, leading contemporary art collectors rarely seem to fall for–or at least choose to display–smaller, more intimate works and those by lesser-known names.

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