How Miami Collectors Jack and Tara Benmeleh Switch Into ‘Basel Mode’

The power couple share what's on the diary for Art Week—and who they have their eye on this year.

Tara and Jack Benmeleh with a painting by Yirui Jia, Up All Night (2022), in their Miami home.

The entire art world seems to wash over Miami each December. The city surges with artists, dealers, curators, and a vast sea of fairs big and small—all anchored by that juggernaut, Art Basel Miami Beach. Collectors, too, descend on Miami in the hopes of taking their pick of a new raft of art stars. Yet, among the swirl, young collectors Jack and Tara Benmeleh have staked out an island for themselves.

The couple has a clear advantage, being Miami natives and deeply engaged with the city’s emerging art scene all year round. The bulk of their collection comes from artists their age, which is to say 30-somethings, who are based in Southern Florida. In other words, they collect from their peers. They’ve also become ardent supporters of local talent—including their children—to the extent that Jack serves as chair of the Young Collector’s Board at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA Miami), helping the non-profit museum acquire pieces by rising contemporary artists and build a community of likeminded collectors.

Their own collection has swelled so large—”every inch of every wall”—that it has spilled over into Jack’s law office, where he assists art institutions with legal matters, while Tara is the founder of the lifestyle brand Espiritútara. Yet, despite their hectic schedules, they always find the time to host a cocktail party at their home each December, which has become a highly sought-after invitation. The ICA also holds an anticipated annual bash during Miami Art Week, which this year Jack plans to deejay.

We caught up with the Benmelehs for a sneak peek at their art-week plans and what they have their eye on this year.

Is there a change in the air with Art Basel Miami so near?

Yes, the air feels electric. There’s excitement and the locals who are in the scene get into “Basel mode.” Also, the characters start coming into town and everyone’s outfits start leveling up.

How do you prepare for Art Basel Miami versus other art fairs?

Being that Miami is our hometown, we have to get our house in order, organize our kids’ schedules, make sure there is healthy food at home, and so on. Additionally, we prepare our minds and bodies ahead of time to get ready for the marathon by meditating and working out.

Artworks in Jack Benmeleh's office (left to right) by Sayre Gomez (blue painting), Math Bass (twin towers), Nick Lobo (sloping sculpture), and Bhakti Baxter (blue diamond).

Artworks in Jack Benmeleh’s office (left to right) by Sayre Gomez (untitled cerulean blue painting), Math Bass (twin towers), Nick Lobo (glideslope), and Bhakti Baxter (blue diamond).

Tell us about your involvement with the ICA as young collectors.

Jack: I am the chair of the Young Collector’s Board (YCB) and together with Tara we create community by hosting great events that attract more people to support the arts. The YCB’s mission is to acquire emerging art and create a platform for young artists to be part of the museum collection.

What was your first art purchase?

An eight-foot squared blue diamond oil painting by Bhatkti Baxter, a pioneer of the Miami 2000s art movement. It was our first significant piece when we started collecting for real.

A work by Koichi Sato featuring Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler.

A work by Koichi Sato featuring Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler. Courtesy of Jack and Tara Benmeleh.

What was your most recent purchase?

Tara: Chloe Wise‘s Self-Portrait as Horse with Horse (2023) that we bought from Almine Rech at Frieze London. We had wanted a piece of hers for a while, but we waited to find the one that we felt connected to. Both Jack and our older son, Max Aero, are Year of the Horse in the Chinese zodiac.

Tell us about a favorite work in your collection.

A nude portrait of our family by Miami artist Aramis Gutierrez.

Jack and Tara Benmeleh with Ryan Schneider, <em>Wink, Wink, Giggle, Giggle</em> (2018).

Jack and Tara Benmeleh with Ryan Schneider, Wink, Wink, Giggle, Giggle (2018).

What works do you have your eye on at Art Basel Miami Beach?

We’re closely watching Alejandro Piñeiro Bello, an artist-in-residence at the Rubell Museum this year and his first solo show at KDR’s brand new gallery in Allapattah. Alejandro’s work represents a dreamy vision of paradise which is so fitting for Miami.

We’re also looking forward to Tara Downs’s booth at NADA, where she’s showing the work of Tsai Yun-Ju and Jiang Cheng, among others.

What has been your greatest ever find at Art Basel Miami?

Jack: David Shrigley‘s painting titled Massive Illegal Rave in the Wilderness. It was the last day of Basel in 2019 and I was running on fumes after seven days of partying and looking at art. I went into Anton Kern at the convention center, saw the painting, and bought it on the spot. I loved it so much that I picked it up the next day in my car rather than wait for professional art handlers. I even hung it myself.

Jack and Tara Benmeleh with Awol Erizku, <em>I Was Going to Call It Your Name But You Wouldn't Let Me</em> (2018).

Jack and Tara Benmeleh with Awol Erizku, I Was Going to Call It Your Name But You Wouldn’t Let Me (2018). Courtesy of Jack and Tara Benmeleh.

Which other works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

TBD. We won’t know until we see it. That’s the joy of going to art fairs.

Who are you looking forward to meeting there?

Every year our art world expands and we get to meet the most interesting artists, gallerists, curators, and collectors. The art world is the best. Period.

Max Aero presents a work inspired by artist Josh Smith (on wall).

Max Aero holds up a work inspired by artist Josh Smith (on wall). Courtesy of Jack and Tara Benmeleh.

What is the most valuable work of art that you own?

For sentimental reasons, our son Max Aero’s paintings. He’s eight and a prolific artist already. He’s been selling his works for three years now. He likes to paint esoteric things like energy and portals—also Pokémon and Transformers.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa?

That’s hard to say because every inch of every wall of our home is filled with art. So there are several works hanging above our sofa. Among them are two colorful little paintings by Josh Smith from his “Grim Reaper” series.

Naama Tsabar, <em>Melodies of Certain Damage (Opus 3)</em> (2018).

Naama Tsabar, Melodies of Certain Damage (Opus 3) (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

A broken guitar by Naama Tsabar, but it’s actually been reconfigured to make music.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, from anywhere in the world, what would it be?

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The importance of this work goes without saying and how often it is referenced in contemporary art, even in 2023, is a testament to Picasso’s brilliance. Also, Picasso was suspected in the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911; it would be funny to ask him this same question.

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