Chip. Chip. Chip. That’s the sound of art-world popularity. Just three days into its grand opening during this past December’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair, the brand-new concrete stairs inside the De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space are already showing signs of serious wear. The culprit? Thousands of eager art buffs—in their high heels—traipsing up and down the three floors of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz’s 30,000-square-foot Design District museum displaying much of the couple’s storied art collection.
The de la Cruzes had their architect construct a climate- controlled building able to withstand all manner of Mother Nature’s Miamifuries, from hurricane-force winds to brain-melting summer humidity. But an army of incessantly stomping stiletto heels?Chip. Chip. Chip. Consider it a lesson learned. “What can I say?” laughs Rosa de la Cruz when stopped inside her Space amid the overflow crowds swirling past. “This is where everyone wants to be right now. And me, too! Carlos and I are thinking of moving into the top floor!”
Kidding aside, such a relocation would be in character for the de la Cruzes, whose Key Biscayne manse has become famous for both the who’s who of contemporary artwork displayed there—from Germany’s Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen and Neo Rauch to Miami’s own Hernan Bas, Cristina Lei Rodriguez and George Sánchez- Calderón—as well as the public tours the couple has led around their home over the past 15 years.
“Some people enjoy going to the horse races, I love showing art to people,” de la Cruz says. And fancy footwear is not a requirement. “People come to the door during Art Basel and say, ‘I’m a VIP!’ Then they wave those little VIP cards from Basel.” With a chuckle she continues: “Our house is open to anyone, and so is this new space.”
With free admission and an exhibition area that handily dwarfs that of both downtown’s Miami Art Museum and North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, not to mention similarly styled private museums owned by Marty Margulies, Mera and Don Rubell and Ella Fontanals- Cisneros all just minutes away, the de la Cruz Space may finally be the Design District’s cultural tipping point.
However, de la Cruz demurs on any grand schemes for the neighborhood. In fact, she denies there’s even an overarching theme in her Space’s currently displayed artwork: “Remember, this is not a ‘show,’ this is an exhibition of a collection.” But it’s hard not to see the de la Cruzes’ own biography playing a hand in a selection of pieces that often address themes of personal—and painful—dislocation.
The couple were teenage sweethearts in prerevolutionary Havana, a relationship that continued abroad in 1960 when, following the ascent of Fidel Castro, Carlos remained at the University of Pennsylvania while Rosa left the island for school in North Carolina. “We wrote a letter to one another every day,” de la Cruz explains. “People don’t understand how communications have changed. Long-distance phone calls were expensive then—you would talk on the phone once a month.” They wed in Coral Gables in 1962. Rosa was 19, Carlos was 20, but it was hardly a time of youthful optimism. “We got married during the trial of the Bay of Pigs,” de la Cruz recalls, referring to the kangaroo courts run by the Castro regime for captured Cuban-exile brigadiers in the wake of their failed invasion. “There was no spirit of celebration. Many of our friends were in jail. How could we have a reception?”
Adding insult to injury, Rosa’s family home in western Havana had been seized by the government and turned into the new Polish embassy. The official edict: “Your home now belongs to the people.” What had once seemed like a temporary sojourn in Miami was looking permanent. It’s a status that, even five decades later, still troubles the de la Cruzes. Carlos, now a beverage magnate, has been named by The Miami Herald as one of the dozen most influential businesspeople in Miami-Dade County. Rosa wields a similar level of power within the local cultural milieu. Yet the Cuba of their past—and the Cuba to be—weighs heavy on their minds.
So call it subtle symbolism: Visitors to the Space are initially greeted by a life-size mobile of a giddy young German couple behind the wheel of a new Volkswagen. It’s a seemingly upbeat image, until de la Cruz reveals that its creator, Polish artist Paulina Olowska, was inspired by apprehension over the hordes of Germans f lowing across Poland’s post-1989 border in search of cheap consumer goods. The same drivers were also whizzing past emigrating Poles who were in search of employment in the reunified Germany. All those decades of struggle and suffering under communism—only to end in job-hunting exile.
The final image visitors are left with is one of Cuban-exile artist Félix González-Torres’ signature paper stacks—two piles of poster-size sheets, one stamped NOWHERE BETTER THAN THIS PLACE, the other SOMEWHERE BETTER THAN THIS PLACE. All are free for the taking and continually replenished—a way for González-Torres to fuse a philosophical musing with a subtle jab at the often sanctimonious “don’t touch!” air of traditional museums.
The lasting message is simple: Home is wherever you make it. Informed that visitors were opting for “Nowhere” posters over the “Somewhere” competition—at a ratio of almost two to one—de la Cruz flashes a smile that mixes both triumph and relief. “That’s Miami!” she says.
TOP IMAGE: Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz wih Cesar Trasobares' Hojas Libres. MIDDLE IMAGE: De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space. BOTTOM IMAGE: Paulina Olowska, Car Mobile.