The de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space opened Thursday in the Design District to a crowd smitten with the museum-like building's clean, soaring architectural lines and three floors bursting with elegantly installed international contemporary art.

''It's first class, the way Rosa does things,'' said developer and collector Craig Robins . ''This is so good for the Design District."
Rosa de la Cruz , who every year hosts a garden breakfast in her Key Biscayne home for Art Basel VIPs eager to see her world-renowned collection, greeted visitors at the new 30,000-square-foot space at 23 NE 41st St. Her husband Carlos remained at home hosting the VIPs. ''He missed his own opening,'' Rosa joked. Everyone was welcomed at the new space -- ''an extension of my home'' -- no credentials needed. It will remain open to the public for free.

Rosa de la Cruz was visibly moved by visitors's reactions to a roster of first-rate Polish, German, British and American artists exhibited along with Cuban-Americans Ana Mendieta and Felix Gonzalez-Torres , who created ground-breaking conceptual works before their deaths.
''I've worked so much, and this has been so many years in the making,'' de la Cruz said. ''People ask me, 'How do you do it?' Well, I stand in a room for an hour, and I study, and I think about the art and the artist; and my purpose when I exhibit it is to respect the work.''

de la Cruz flew in New York-based artist Jim Hodges to mingle his works with those of Gonzalez-Torres, who died in 1996 and posthumously represented the United States in the Venice Biennale two years ago. People were getting their photographs taken in front of Hodges' gorgeous ceiling-to-floor flower curtain, and those familiar with Gonzalez-Torres' work helped themselves to samples from the pile of white-mint candies from the late artist's legendary installation Untitled (Portrait of Dad) .

Wendy Cromwell , an art adviser from Manhattan, stood before two neatly piled stacks of oversized white paper -- one labeled ''Nowhere better than this place,'' the other ''Somewhere better than this place'' -- another Gonzalez-Torres installation.

''That just blew my mind,'' Cromwell said. ''I love Rosa's taste. She has great understanding of her own art and how it should be seen.''
The poster-like papers also were there for the taking. Gonzalez-Torres always insisted that viewers interact with his works and labeled the materials for the piece ''endless copies.'' But the most moving opening-day moments occurred in a secluded room on the third floor, where de la Cruz has installed a room dedicated to the iconic ''earth body'' works of Ana Mendieta. Video and photographs surround the sculpture Sandwoman , which was on a platform.

''It's chapel-like,'' said collector Peter Menendez as he, like other Cuban-Americans who knew Mendieta and mourned her tragic death at 36 in 1985, choked back tears.