May 1st, 2007
by Nick Compton
CRAIG ROBINS, MIAMI
Like the LA art collector Eli Broad, Robins has a conviction that his collection, and broader activities on the cultural front, benefit his city. In Robins' case, that city is Miami, which, over the last five years, has established itself as a surprising loci of the contemporary art world. Robins has had no small part to play in that.
He is the curatorial sort of collector; not for him speculation. "I'm not much of a seller," he says. "There have been times when I have sold things to buy a better example or I've lost interest. But generally, I try to find artists that I want to collect in depth."
A Miami native, Robins began collecting while at university in Barcelona. When his parents offered to buy him a gold watch as a graduation present, he told them he would much rather have a painting. In 1987, after graduating from Miami Law School, he set up property company Dacra. With business success came the opportunity for a deeper commitment to art collecting.
"As I had more resources, I collected more aggressively," he says. "My first meaningful purchase was in 1990, when I bought a John Baldessari piece from the 1960s." Robins also has serious hauls of Kai Althoff, Cosima von Bonin, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Paul McCarthy, Joseph Beuys and Richard Tuttle.
Part of his collection is housed in the new Dacra offices in the Design District, an area pretty much hustled into being by Robins. The building was designed by Terry Riley as part office space, part gallery. Robins brought in German collector and curator Karola Grasslin to make a judicious selection from the collection in time for the opening. She jumped at the chance. "There are few notable private collections that provide an exemplary reflection of the collector's direct contact with the artists and their artworks. Craig Robins is one of those collectors," she says.
However, Robins is quick to refute the suggestion that the collector can have a significant effect on the ebb and flow of
financial and critical favour for an artist. "I think it's very dangerous for a collector to hold themselves up as a tastemaker. And you have to cancel out the background chatter and not collect with your ears."
Robin now views his collection less as an investment fund, more as a civic bequest waiting to happen. "My dream would be to have major collectors in Miami join together and donate our collections, or a major part of our collections, to local institutions," he says. "There is so much great art in Miami. That would make a statement that would be admired internationally."
Not that persuading others to be so publicly minded is easy. "It's complicated, because these are very valuable assets and different people have different ideas about community," Robins observes wryly. "But hopefully that can be sorted out over time."