By: Erin Michelle Newberg
Meet Miami’s most dedicated collectors.
Remi & Oti Roberts
Oti Roberts credits his mother with his cultural penchant. “She made us want to surround ourselves with African culture, from playlists that include African music to the films we watch,” says the managing director at Morgan Stanley. “The bottom line is that it didn’t make sense to reflect on visual art that we couldn’t relate to, and we wanted to infuse our kids with a sense of belonging.”
Of Nigerian descent and Saudi Arabian raised, the couple reconnected at the University of Miami. Travel and appreciation for art that depicts the African Diaspora is one of the many bonds that defines this couple, who calls Coral Gables home. Their procurement quest has
taken them to art fairs in Miami, New York, and London. The reason is pragmatic. “This is how we developed relationships with gallerists,” Oti adds, “and close friendships with Mikhaile Solomon, the founder of the PRIZM Art Fair, that are essential in our collecting journey.”
The result is a collection that began with a piece titled “Talibae Dreams” by Alexis Peskine and includes works by Marcellina Akpojotor, Dennis Osadebe, and Sthenjwa Luthuli. The dream is to own, one day, pieces by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Kehinde Wiley. Until then, they are dedicated supporters of galleries in Lagos, Rele Gallery in particular, as well as many of the institutions in South Florida
Carolina Garcia Jayaram & Vivek Jayaram
Way before they met, Carolina founded LegalArt back during her law school days. She created the non-profit organization for Miami-based artists like Frances Trombly, FriendsWithYou, Jen Stark, and Naomi Fisher, who bartered their work for legal counsel. Together with Vivek, an intellectual property lawyer who shares her love for the arts, their Miami Beach home is a testament to the couple’s aesthetic. “Our inspiration as a couple is rooted in the arts, and is a result of what connected us,” says Vivek. “We’ve continued that philosophy with our children.”
With music on a permanent rotation, their home showcases an eclectic yet sophisticated design approach. Pieces scattered around include the Ligne Roset Togo sofas, Knoll tables, Tom Dixon Noguchi lighting, carpets purchased in Morocco, and objects purchased in Mexico, a place of their frequent travels.
This multi-cultural family supports local galleries like David Castillo, Nina Johnson, and Mindy Solomon. “Sometimes we buy from artists directly, if they do not have representation,” Vivek shares. Their collection includes works by Sanford Biggers, Derrick Adams, Pepe Mar, Xaviera Simmons, Judy Chicago, and Nadia Waheed, and it reflects a shared point of view. “If we walk into a gallery separately,” Carolina laughs, “we somehow always like the same piece.”
Tara & Jack Benmeleh
It only makes sense that the common passion between Tara and Jack is rooted in culture. After all, they were officially introduced at The Bass museum and their first date took place at Pérez Art Museum Miami. As their romance bloomed, so did their art collection. “When you start collecting you don’t know much,” Jack shares. “And then you learn, and it is certainly an experience. In the beginning we only bought local, and now we have expanded our horizons and buy regularly from international galleries.” The learning curve worked, and the results are impressive. As the ultimate validation of their curatorial savvy, two pieces, a Guadalupe Maravilla Healing Gong and a Jared McGriff painting, will be loaned out to museums in Norway and Fort Lauderdale.
“Our curating process has changed over time,” explains Tara. “In the beginning, it was about visual attraction, and then we got to the point where we asked ourselves whether the work will create an impact on the viewer and society.” Today their acquisitions showcase innovative artmaking and storytelling and join a collection at their Design District home that includes a lineup with serious gravitas. “Some highlights of our existing collection are artists like Matthew Barney, Tomm El Saieh, Josh Smith, Sayre Gomez, Pepe Mar, and Jordy Kerwick.” Much like the couple’s personality, their collected pieces reflect fun and positivity, “because, after all, our goal in life is to be happy and to spread that joy, and, for us, art is the key to that fulfillment.”
Zuly & Rafael Perez
At the beginning of their courtship Zuly was more of a “cocktail person.” But her love for mixology soon gave way to Ralph’s love of wine. “We started taking this hobby ‘seriously’ just 15 years ago,” Ralph shares. “Seriously” is an understatement. The couple, who are two of the biggest private wine collectors in the United States, built a cedar and onyx cellar the size of two bedrooms in their Coral Gables home to accommodate an ever-growing assemblage of rare and fabulous finds. Within this temperature- controlled haven lies a lot of wine amassed not for its cachet, rather for the felicity it brings. “We absolutely enjoy it, and a few nights per week we independently choose a bottle that we are in the mood for,” adds Ralph. “We are focused on enjoying countries and flavor profiles, and we take turns choosing.” The cellar is pure perfection. Two chandeliers light the space that features a wooden table imported from California. As for the bottles, they are categorized and displayed by country, region, and bank. White, handwritten rings around the nose of each bottle note the wines’ year, rating, and origin.
Boasting unique Ports, some dating back to late 1800s, a jaw-dropping selection of Bordeaux, and decades-old premier Grand Cru Classe bottles, the collection may appear sacrosanct. Perez couldn’t disagree more. “We do not believe in collecting to hoard,” Ralph explains. “Rather, we do this because we enjoy it — after all, we never know what tomorrow will bring.”
Carole & Oscar Seikaly
Before Carole and Oscar met, each had a unique passion for all things “beautiful.” As a young professional, Oscar would spend a considerable chunk of his salary on tribal art while living in Saudi Arabia. Carole did the same, working for Christian Dior in Paris.
Once they married, merging their styles came easily. “The one thing we always have agreed upon is art,” Carole explains. “We choose together, and he does all of the backend work.” Today, their collection includes over 400 pieces by artists from 80 countries. It is as varied as it gets, and their Bay Point home is the perfect canvas for it. Their motto is to buy what they love. That affection extends to Rufino Tamayo, Roberto Matta, Wifredo Lam, and Diego Rivera. They also own works by Kehinde Wiley, Piotr Uklański, Amy Sherald, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Yoshitomo Nara, Carlos Betancourt, Rashid Johnson, Yinka Shonibare, Mark Bradford, and Gordon Parks. “What we built reflects our fascination with history,” adds Oscar. “That includes colonialism, racial and ethnic discrimination, women’s rights, child labor, and all social issues that are ever-evolving globally.” Their continued fascination with the arts has extended way beyond the walls of their home. Both are involved in such institutions as The Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Pérez Art Museum Miami, The Bass museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.