Fueling a Museum's Rise: A Dedicated Donor and an Edge in Latin American Art

Recent news out of Miami suggests two things. First, there may be some truth to our hypothesis that modern Latin American art represents "the next big thing" for acquisition directors. And secondly, the city is methodically consolidating its position as the international Mecca of contemporary Latin American art.

The gift in question comes from Miami real estate developer Jorge M. Pérez to his very own Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Mr. Pérez is giving $10 million in cash and a collection of more than 200 works by Cuban artists valued at some $5 million to the Pérez Art Museum Miami, including the painter Hernan Bas, the installation specialist Carlos Garaicoa, and the conceptual collective Los Carpinteros.

The gift stipulates that $5 million will go to the museum’s endowment, $1 million toward Cuban art, and $4 million to Latin-American art generally. The donated works will be featured in a new exhibition celebrating the donation in the fall of 2017.

In addition to the Cuban art collection, which will be supplemented by the first million dollars to augment the gift with new acquisitions of Cuban art, PAMM will spend $1 million a year in the four successive years to acquire works by Latin American artists to further buttress that aspect of the collection.

Add it all up and PAMM will now boast one of the largest collection of contemporary Cuban art in any American museum. 

Which brings me back to the "next big thing" thesis. As repeatedly noted here at IP, contemporary art is all the rage across the museum world. Donors who possess it are in high demand. And yet the art, by its very definition, is a finite commodity.

Yet modern Latin American art, at least according to donors like Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, remains relatively under-leveraged. Commenting on her recent gift and the establishment of a research institute for the study of Latin American art at the MoMA, she said, "My big frustration in Latin America is, we've always been on the back burner in many areas, certainly in art. "It was one of the great centers of Modernism in the '50s, yet hasn't been taken into account." 

Jorge M. Pérez, however, has had Latin American art on the front burner for quite some time. 

In December 2011, Pérez donated $40 million to what was then the Miami Art Museum to support the construction of the institution’s Herzog & de Meuron-designed building. (He has served on the museum's board since 2004.) The gift included $15 million in support to the institution’s Capital Campaign, on top of his original $5 million pledge at the campaign’s outset.

"Miami, which is sort of the capital of the Americas, should have a great Latin American art collection," said the Argentine-born Pérez of his donation. "And it was important to me for a Hispanic person to assume a lead role in philanthropy and have their name associated with a great museum like the Tate or the Guggenheim." 

Back in July ArtNet reported Pérez would be stepping away from real estate and turn his attention towards collecting and philanthropy. His most recent gift certainly made good on that promise and it's safe to say the Miami arts community is eagerly awaiting what's next. 

"This is just peanuts compared to what I’ll be giving to the museum," Pérez said.