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Jorge Pérez Deepens His Commitment to Latin American Art

Jorge M. Pérez has so far donated nearly $60 million to the Herzog & de Meuron–designed Pérez Art Museum Miami with the goal of establishing a prominent collection of Latin American art in the city (photo by Photo Daniel Azoulay). Top: Pérez, pictured with José Dávila’s Homage to the Square, 2015, at Mana Contemporary in Miami, started collecting Latin American art in the late 1970s, when the work was undervalued. Photo by Nick Garcia

Billionaire art collectors come in many shapes and sizes, although they all tend toward the imperious. The successful Miami-based real estate developer Jorge M. Pérez, however, has a relaxed air — he seems more like someone you’d sit next to in business class, who might even chat you up, rather than someone who could afford his own plane.

Pérez, 67, sports a dark Van Dyke beard, and over breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental in New York one fall day, he describes what he’s doing in town. It’s not about properties, mortgages or financing. It’s all about art. That focus is why he’s perhaps most famous for having his name on the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).

“We’re going to a couple artist’s studios,” he says, referring to his wife, Darlene, and their plan to thread through Brooklyn and Manhattan to see, among others, Teresita Fernández and Michele Oka Doner. “We’re going to try to hit as much as we can. It’s a very full day.”

In November, it was announced that Pérez, who runs the Related Group, was doubling-down on his support of PAMM, topping up his original $40 million gift of cash and art (rewarded with naming rights) with another $15 million, bringing the total into the $60 million zone.

“I thought that it was very important for the museum in Miami to have a serious Latin American collection,” says Pérez, who divvied up his new gift accordingly: 200 works from his Cuban collection worth some $5 million and $10 million in cash, half dedicated to acquiring Latin American art and half for the endowment.

Manifestos, 2014, by José Carlos Martinat, is seen here on display at the Art Basel Miami Beach Public Art Sector. This work, along with the other pieces in this slideshow, is part of Pérez’s personal collection. Photo courtesy of The Related Group

SK-KO, 2013, by Angel Otero

Method Random 1, 2013, by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Moyeuvre-Grande, 1994, and The Quadrant, 1987, both by Frank Stella

Corner Piece #4, 1976, by Sol LeWitt

When Two Are on One, by Matthew Ronay, a collection of 11 sculptures commissioned by PAMM in 2015 for its Project Gallery

In September, PAMM debuted S-281913, by Sarah Oppenheimer, which will be on display until April 30.

Pérez and his wife, Darlene, greet artist Jaume Plensa at the unveiling of Plensa’s 40-foot-tall sculpture Looking into My Dreams, Awilda, which went on permanent public display outside PAMM in December. Photo by World Red Eye

His personal collection, a reflection of his wide-ranging passion for art, comprises (after the recent gifts) more than 1,000 works by the likes of Sol LeWitt, Jaume Plensa and Fernando Botero. He’s constantly adding to it. And even though he certainly gives many away, he says proudly, “I’ve never sold a piece. I have no interest in doing so.”

Those who have worked with him say that Pérez approaches business just as he does collecting. “He just likes building things,” says Thomas Collins, formerly PAMM’s director and now executive director and president of the Barnes Foundation, in Philadelphia, referring to Pérez’s penchant for creating collections as well as structures. “It’s not about accumulation for Jorge. And he has an incredible spirit of generosity.”

Pérez, the child of Cuban émigrés, was born in Argentina and grew up in Colombia. He traces his interest in art to the font of everything: his mother. “She was a real intellectual, and she would take me to museums,” he says.

He came to the U.S. to attend C.W. Post College, on Long Island, and immediately started buying lithographs. “The first ones I bought were by Man Ray, Marino Marini and Miró, and I still have them,” he says.

Pérez earned a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan, not the usual academic credential for real estate developers these days. At 27 years old, he moved to Miami to become the city’s head of economic and community development, and he started collecting Latin American art.

Pérez’s latest gift to the museum comprises 200 works by Cuban artists, such as those highlighted here. Above, a still from the video installation Cada Respiro, 2015, by Glenda León

Sala de Lectura Octogonal, 2009, by Los Carpinteros

Parte de Parte (tríptico), 2008, by Los Carpinteros

Collection of the Artist, 2001, by Rubén Torres Llorca

A still from the video installation I Scream, Therefore I Exist, 2011, by Antonia Wright

¡Ay Tatá ¿Hasta cuándo, 1995, by José Bedia

Revolico, 2014, by Glexis Novoa

Pérez and PAMM director Franklin Sirmans attended the Pérez Art Museum Stewardship Dinner in December, which took place at the SLS Brickell. Photo by World Red Eye

“The only place you could do this in a serious way was at the auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s,” he says, recalling his trips to New York for the sales. “Twice a year, in May and November.”

Pérez didn’t have a lot of money, but in the late 1970s and ’80s, not that much was required. “Latin American art was really cheap — I mean really cheap,” he says. “I even bought a Diego Rivera from a fantastic year, before he went back to Mexico, for four thousand dollars.” Pérez worked his way through the key Central and South American figures, building his collection, some of which has gone to PAMM.

He is one collector who retains diverse tastes and doesn’t apologize for it. “You’ll think I’m bipolar when I tell you the artists I like,” Pérez says, laughing. The list ranges from the Cuban conceptualist duo Los Carpinteros — included in his most recent PAMM gift — to Alex Katz, Frank Stella and even Claude Monet. “If I owned Water Lilies, I would probably never leave the room,” he says.

Comments like that, and his spicy off-the-record observations about politics and society, are part of why PAMM’s current director, Franklin Sirmans, calls Pérez “very down to earth for a billionaire.”

For fun, he jets around the world with his “best friend,” New York–based developer and fellow art patron Stephen M. Ross, of the Related Companies. (Their firms have strikingly and confusingly similar names for a reason: Ross is a stakeholder in Pérez’s Related Group, which he helped Pérez found.)

Philanthropically, though, he is not kidding around about transforming Miami, the “capital of Latin America,” through art. “I have a long-term commitment to the museum,” he says simply of the PAMM gifts. “Believe me, I’ll be giving a lot more.”

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