The Rubells–Owners of the “30 Americans”

Mera and Don Rubell

Mera and Don Rubell

On Thursday, August 15, Don and Mera Rubell, the owners of the 30 Americans exhibit visited the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM).  The Rubell Family Collection (RFC), which includes the 30 Americans, comprises thousands of works and is probably one of the largest privately-owned art collections in the world.  Juan Roselione-Valadez, the director of the RFC facilitated the down-to-earth, impromptu lecture.  The Lubar Auditorium was near capacity as the Rubells shared the beginnings of their journey which began shortly after their marriage in 1964.

Mera, the primary spokesperson, shared how making a “connection” with the artists, their work, and inspiration is just as important (if not more) as purchasing art.  The Rubells shared stories of the intimate relationships they fostered with well-known artists Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, and others.  Surprisingly, conversations they had with contemporary artists (many of whom happened to be African American) and their influences revealed artists whose works they had been acquiring for the past 30 years—Robert Colescott, Carrie Mae Weems, Barkley Hendricks, and Kara Walker—to name a few.  The idea of 30 Americans exhibit was born from a desire to marry the works of both emerging artists and those who inspired them.  Again, they happened to be African American artists.

I enjoyed the Rubells’ candor and humor as they shared the pact they made early on to discuss the “validity of collecting potential artworks” with each other before purchasing them.  Both state they have held true to this collaborative spirit—not always easy when one’s passion over acquiring a new work overrules the logic of such a purchase!  The talk was informative, entertaining, and authentic—I could have listened to them for hours.

“Why Here?”

On July 11, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) held a panel discussion with Wisconsin 30 artists to respond to the question, “Why Here?” Reginald Baylor, Sonji Hunt, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, Evelyn Patricia Terry, and via video Tyanna Blue discussed the question in reference to their choice to live and work in Wisconsin.

I asked friend and fellow artist, Evelyn Patricia Terry, to share her thoughts. Here’s a summary of what she said…

“For the panel, “Why Here?” I had only one sentence that I was committed to, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” With a 40-year stash of something to say about art and 67 years of something to say about living in Milwaukee, “Why here” is a piece of cake. I echoed another panelist, Tyanna Buie with, “Why not here?” After traveling as much as I could…because one can work from anywhere as an artist…I decided to stop wasting time on that aspect of my life and do what I really wanted to do. I am an artist. At this time, I can do art here. My goal to accomplish my art being everywhere began years ago and continues.

I have traveled as much as I needed to get information about finding a better place to live. I went to Russia and when I arrived they told me to stand in the corner as the other passengers went in. I went to Brazil (with an artists’ group) and the women were disregarded terribly. I went to California and did not care for the earthquakes. I visited New York and, of course, did not care for it. I live on 18th and Wright and the streets are cleaner.

My exhibited artwork, “Magic is Dream Stacking” reflects my propensity to stack dreams/goals and work toward their achievement. Another goal is to get my artwork into the right collection.”

I agree with Evelyn. Where I live doesn’t limit where my art is exhibited or sold. When my artwork finds itself in a place where I am not, I admit I do have mixed feelings—my art is an extension of me since it has come from me and sometimes it’s hard to let go. At the same time, though, I’m sharing my passion; what I need to say.

30 Americans / Wisconsin 30

In June, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) opened a spectacular survey of contemporary art: 30 Americans ( This exhibition taken from the Rubell Foundation, is one of the finest private collections of contemporary art in the country. All of the artists in the exhibition are African American.  Donald and Mera Rubell spent about four decades working with these artists to create an exhibition that is powerful and relevant today. Here are the artists in the exhibition:

Nina Chanel Abney
John Bankston
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Mark Bradford
Iona Rozeal Brown
Nick Cave
Robert Colescott
Noah Davis
Leonardo Drew
Renée Green
David Hammons
Barkley L. Hendricks
Rashid Johnson
Glenn Ligon
Kalup Linzy
Kerry James Marshall
Rodney McMillian
Wangechi Mutu
William Pope.L
Gary Simmons
Xaviera Simmons
Lorna Simpson
Shinique Smith
Jeff Sonhouse
Henry Taylor
Hank Willis Thomas
Mickalene Thomas
Kara Walker
Carrie Mae Weems
Kehinde Wiley
Purvis Young

In conjunction with this exhibition, the Milwaukee Art Museum presents Wisconsin 30, a parallel exhibition featuring paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, and sculpture by thirty Wisconsin African American artists. This exhibition presents a complementary overview of the themes of race and identity explored in 30 Americans, focusing on Wisconsin. I have been chosen to be part of the Wisconsin 30!!  Here’s my piece that is part of the show:

Ringin' Round the Rosie

Ringin’ Round the Rosie

The other artists included in Wisconsin 30 are:  Dave Anderson, Marlon Banks, Kevin Boatright, Reggie Baylor, Trenton Baylor, Brad Anthony Bernard, Tyanna Buie, Larry Chatman, Portia Cobb, Jamal Currie, Paul Davis, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, Freida High-Tesfagiorgis, Vedale Hill, Sonji Hunt, Mutope Johnson, Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Richard Lewis, Charly Palmer, Christopher McIntyre, Ras Ammar Nsaroma, Sherman Pitts, Leslie Smith, Evelyn Patricia Terry, Babette Wainright, Della Wells, Iverson White, George Williams.


Wisconsin 30 is organized by the MAM, in coordination with Sande Robinson, president, Milwaukee Art Museum’s African American Art Alliance (Quad A), and Lynne Shumow, curator of education, Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University.  Kudos and more kudos go to these women for a stellar job in bringing it all together!

Related articles