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Cuban-born Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz discuss their work as both collectors and as curators

They receive 5000 visitors a year in their house, which has become a personal Kunsthalle 16 years in the making

Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz have a pretty large house, but they have only one bedroom now. The rest is given over to art.

It all began 16 years ago, at the same time as their grand daughter was born. Carlos is more for painting, and especially the Germans; there is a huge Sigmar Polke in the double-cube central room of the house, of the view of Afghanistan from a spy satellite. Rosa was particularly influenced by the conceptual artist, Felix Gonzales-Torres, who died of Aids. In the corner of one room she has a famous work of his, the pile of sweeties of which one is invited to partake, in symbolic sharing of a dead friend’s sweetness.

Mrs de la Cruz has found her vocation as private curator and collector. She changes the displays in her house regularly. For ABMB she has had a big installation piece made for the upstairs gallery by assume vivid astro focus, known to New Yorkers from their installations at Deitch Projects and the last Whitney Biennial. It would take too long to describe it here, but it is colourful, densely patterned and eclectic in the extreme: artists’ wallpapers, two go-go dancers’ illuminated platforms, a brick wall, a changing video show, music, and on the opening night, a performance by Los Super Elegantes. This last had the couple being trailed by a snapping paparazzo, a comment on the intrusiveness of today’s obsession with celebrities.

Carlos and Rosa left Havana with the revolution. America has lived up to its myth and brought them fortune (among their activities are the distribution of Budweiser and a Coca Cola bottling plant in Puerto Rico). “My husband and I believe in giving something back to the community”, says Mrs de la Cruz, a small, slender and eloquent blonde in her early 60s, the grand-daughter of the man who built the Capitol in Havana. She admits about 5,000 people a year– from school children to aerobics clubs–go around her austerely post-modern house overlooking the sea . “All they have to do is email me,” she says. An extra 3,000 will be coming round during ABMB, twice the number of last year. “People think I am an institution and write to me ‘Dear Sir, please send photos...’, but there is only me and my assistant, Alicia”.

She likes nothing better than working with artists: “Whenever I see their work, it’s in terms of a show rather than as single trophies. I think of this house as a theatre, where the works of art play off each other. I don’t like to pigeon-hole things”. She travels widely to see and buy art. Among the fairs, she goes to Art Basel in Switzerland, has been twice to Berlin and will go again, she says. She used to go to Arco in Madrid, but has not been for five years. Then there is the Armory in New York, Artissima in Turin, and Frieze, the new and highly successful London fair, where she bought a lot of painting this year.

Her next show will, in fact, be of painting, reflecting what she calls “the new feeling for this traditional art form; the descendants of Philip Guston, but with a grotesque twist”. Coincidentally, London mega-collector Charles Saatchi has also announced that his next show will be of painting. For both collectors, the Germans, especially the Leipzig School, are high on their lists.

She is enthusiastic about what Art Basel/Miami Beach has done for the city, acting as a kind of linking element between Miami’s important collectors such as the Margulies and Rubells, who are all working away rather independently on their various projects. “The fair has brought the world to Miami, which has been great for artists here,” she adds. It has also extended the audience for her gallery down in the Design District, the Moore Space. Previously, it was only artists, curators and the like who came to this Kunsthalle in downtown Miami. Now the local bourgeoisie also visits, says its curator Sylvia Karman Cubiña.

The space is a collaboration with the property developer Craig Robins, another Miami collector. Since 2001, when the first Basel fair would have happened had it not been for 11 September, he has let Rosa de la Cruz have the space free to put on four exhibitions a year. Currently, it has a brilliantly coloured installations by Providence-based artists Jim Drain and Ara Peterson, and a paintings show by the Miami artist Hernan Bas (until 31 March 2004), both of which open to the public today. There is no plan, however, for this space to start having a collection of its own. “We want to remain unencumbered and responsive to the art scene outside” says Ms Cubiña, a view that is held strongly by Mrs de la Cruz: “The moment I become an institution, this will all lose its character. We have to remain small, in the same way that famous Italian companies like Alessi are good because they are small”.

Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz’s collection is open to the public by appointment: email Rdlacr@aol.com

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The collector as curator chez elle'