Get to know philanthropist Jorge Pérez, plus New York’s hottest galleries.
Jorge Pérez, a Cuban-Argentine entrepreneur who lives in Miami, is considered one of the most influential people in the U.S. ar t world. He’s the founder and president of the proper ty company The Related Group, and is the first Latino to have a U.S. museum named after him: the Pérez Ar t Museum Miami (PAMM). We spoke to him about his beginnings and his collection.
Jorge Pérez is considered one of the most influential people in the North American art scene. In fact, that after he donated 40 million dollars and his collection of modern art to the Miami Art Museum, it adopted his name. For the first time in the country’s history, Latino power became linked to philanthropy and art.
We took advantage of Art Basel Miami Beach, the city ’s premier annual art show, to speak with one of the most prominent people on the scene. At one point during our conversation, his wife Darlene (who’s involved in everything) slipped away to address an issue with a patient. A practising doctor, she has her own space in what was previously Jorge’s library/study. In addition to her day job, she plays a central role in running the family foundation. Jorge Pérez has created a world where business, philanthropy, art, family and life come together naturally. There’s a special balance in this home’s atmosphere that allows you to intuit the vital and far-reaching passion it contains. Actually, it’s more than intuition; the evidence is right in front of me. I’m surrounded by fantastic pieces by artists including the likes of Alex Katz, Secundino Hernández, Antony Gormley, Cy Twombly, Damián Ortega and Kiki Smith. All of it seems to make sense here in Miami, a city destined to be the capital of Latin American art. This is what the Pérez Art Museum Miami is aiming for, my host tells me. Not all museums that are named after people belong to the Anglo-Saxon world. The man who lends his name to this one, which is housed in a beautiful building by Herzog & De Meuron, chats from the chair beside me, emanating a palpable love for life.
What are your origins?
I have origins all over the world; I was born in Argentina to Cuban parents, and I came here from Colombia. When I finished my degree in the U.S., I decided to stay. I was extremely sad about not returning, because I felt very Latin American. I acquired my first piece at university, when I was 20: a lithograph by Marino Marini. I could only buy lithographs; it was the only thing they ’d give me. But once I knew I was staying here, I decided to focus on Latin American art... I needed that connection. From the beginning, art became a way to avoid losing my identity.
When did you decide to start building a collection? My company had started to do well and I began collecting my parents’ art. I call it that because it consisted of the classics I used to visit in museums with my mother: Torres García, Lam, Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Claudio Bravo, Botero, etc. I continued collecting these artists until I decided to collaborate with the Miami Art Museum, to which I donated 40 million dollars and my collection. When did you propose that the museum take your name, a Latin American name?
Talking to my family and friends about the donation, I realised that, even though Latinos have contributed so much to the development of the U.S., there aren’t any public buildings named after us. There’s the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, Tate, Phillips... so for me it was very important that Pérez, perhaps the most Latino name there is, be associated with patronage and philanthropy. I wanted people to see that Latinos have made money in the U.S. and that we want to give back by contributing to the community.
Was it with ‘The Giving Pledge’ that you first felt ‘The Luck of Giving’, as I called it in my first book?
I don’t think it was the first time. I’ve always been a giving person, someone very revolutionary. I was born in a society with a stark contrast between the rich and the poor, and have always wanted to do something about it. I’ve always thought that people with a lot of money should have the moral obligation to share it. I had that in mind when I started to build public housing—first for the government and later with my own company¬—for senior citizens with nowhere to live. They called me Jorgito, and the ones who are still alive continue to call me that even though I’m 68 years old!
Of the various activities you sponsor through your foundation, which captivates you most?
They ask me that at the museum, too. I always say that it’s the programme we have with state schools, which allows children to go to the museum for free and visit the curators. It’s moving to see how their minds wake up and they start forming questions they’ve never considered before. Art opens their imaginations and turns them into creators.
Imagination really defines us as humans.
It’s helped me a lot. In my business—and I think this is the part I like the most—imagination is what leads us to success. When I escape from the day-to-day and start to imagine the things I could do... I love what I do; I'm surrounded by art and everyone I know lives through art in one way or another. We involve art in every project we do, because if I believe that art has made me better, then it must have value for others too.
I've always thought that art is enormously valuable for entrepreneurs. As it does for everyone, it gives them the opportunity to grow as people—but it also allows them to have a kind of relationship that can be very difficult to come by through their own business activities.
If you're only involved in your business and you talk about money all day and you just look at what you’re selling, you’re stuck in a very narrow world. For many entrepreneurs, the initial motivation to get involved with art is to increase their social status. But when they become engaged and start talking with people who are part of this world, they ’re transformed. You see how they change. I see it in my partners, for example. I remember a trip we took through Italian villages. Before, they just wanted to go play golf. Now, they love to stay and see the churches and museums. It’s something that has to be learned. The more they know, the more they get hooked.
You're a trendsetting collector. How do you organise your collections?
There are two different collections: the corporate collection, ‘The Related Group Art Collection’, and my private collection, the ‘Jorge Pérez Collection’. The two collections are handled very differently because the pieces don’t have the same destinations. Those that we acquire for the corporate collection go to the buildings we construct. Each project is unique; the pieces are curated and selected based on the theme of the building, its aesthetic, the people who will live there and, of course, the budget. When it comes to my private collection, although I buy pieces for my homes and offices, each one is ultimately destined for the Pérez Museum.
What kinds of artists do your collections include?
When I made my first donation to the museum in 2012, my entire collection was modern art: Lam, Matta, Rivera, etc. Beginning i n 2013, I started to collect contemporary art. As it’s a very personal collection, it mainly consists of artists who connect me with my Latin roots. It’s also very international, with artists from the United States, Germany, Spain... but also a high concentration of artists from Cuba, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico.
Being a patron is associated with being someone who gives, but I think there’s also a lot you receive.
The first thing you realise is that it’s best to give, because it feels good. The second thing is that it helps you a lot. People see your morality, and it makes you grow in the eyes of other businesspeople that want to work with you. They see you as a serious man. Through the museum, I’ve made connections that seemed impossible. It gives you access to things you could never have imagined. In my life, art and business are intertwined. I’ll never again make a building without art.
When you're gone, your buildings and a museum with your name will still stand. Latin American art has been very lucky, with people like Patty Phelps de Cisneros.
She reminds me a little of my mom. Patty is an intellectual, and her husband, who’s a close friend of mine, is a businessman who has grown thanks to her. She’s been the world’s best advocate of Latin American art. She wanted to see the greatest Latin American artists sharing the walls of the world’s top museums with Picasso and Kandinsky... and she made it happen.
Jorge and Darlene Pérez in the living room of their Miami home. On the oppositepage, the ‘Velocidad Brickell’ mural located on the side of the SLS Lux building, created by Argentinian ar tistFabián Burgos.
The foyer of one of the Related Group condos.
The facade of one of the RelatedGroup condos.