A visionary conversation with Jorge Pérez, Miami’s reigning king of art

Jorge Pérez at his Related Group headquarters, in front of Sol LeWitt's '3 Arcs from the Midpoint of the Left Side.' Photograph by Nick Garcia.
Jorge Pérez at his Related Group headquarters, in front of Sol LeWitt's '3 Arcs from the Midpoint of the Left Side.' Photograph by Nick Garcia.

Jorge Pérez wants to propel his namesake museum into becoming a Pan-American pantheon for art and culture. He sees Pérez Art Museum Miami as no less than the lynchpin uniting the cultures of North and South America.

To realize that goal, he intends to focus on Latin American art — while remaining open to collecting great works created by artists anywhere in the world.

“My preference is to buy a lot of great Latin American art so Miami becomes a Latin American culture center,” Pérez said. “I would like to see Miami become more and more the center of culture between the Americas. To combine the cultural thinking of the North and the South. And in doing that, I’m now following artists that are not only Latin American, but [whose work] I just love.”

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with INDULGE, Pérez, 68, discussed his vision and plans during the course of an entire morning at his Miami manse overlooking Biscayne Bay. While a cadre of workers tended to huge trees that Hurricane Irma felled in his front yard, Pérez spoke about his latest ideas for PAMM and about how his taste in art is evolving. He also outlined his strategy for collecting art and revealed a few works he really wants to win at auction — if the price is right.

Jorge Pérez stands before a diptych in his office by Cuban artist Elizabet Cerviño called Limpiar El Cielo (To Clean the Sky). She created it by wiping blue paint from a canvas with 225 handkerchiefs. Photograph by Nick Garcia.

Artists Jorge Pérez admires come from varied backgrounds

“I’m a follower of artists who I’ve liked for a long time,” Pérez said, naming those currently in his collection, such as three stalwarts of American contemporary art: Sol LeWitt, John Chamberlain and Kenneth Noland. He also is developing a strong desire for the work of several German artists, including Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Günther Förg and A.R. Penck.

His Latin American favorites include two artists from his native Argentina — Julio Le Parc and Luis Felipe Noé — as well as Cubans José Bedia and Rubén Torres Llorca, both of whom he believes are severely undervalued today. (Pérez, whose parents are Cuban, was born in a suburb of Buenos Aires. He has strong ties to both countries, as well as Colombia, where his family fled after Fidel Castro took power.)

PAMM is very, very, very important for the artists. This is not my ego [talking]!

Pérez said he wants to add depth to the collection, in addition to melding North and South, by showcasing some of the best works representative of the United States and its European heritage as well as the often overlooked brilliance of Latin America.

Jorge Pérez sits at his office beneath paintings by Juan Genovés (Ideograma 139, left) and Tomás Esson (Yo Sigo Pintando/Oraculo, right). Photograph by Nick Garcia.

How he views PAMM’s place in the art world

He envisions a museum collection that not only includes superior art, but also follows the creative lifespan of contemporary artists as they evolve. “The great museums have not just one piece by that artist. They have 20 pieces… I don’t mind buying more than one, two or three, if pieces arrive that complement the pieces and sort of narrate the history of the artist.”

He is acutely aware of his role in bringing Latin American art to the world stage. His placement of artists’ work in PAMM brings recognition, which in turn enables them to earn a living.

“In a way, I help educate folks as to what the important art is coming from the different [Latin American] countries,” he said. “Because, if those artists are not picked up by recognized galleries or museums here, there’s no way they get to know who they are. And that’s why PAMM is very, very, very important for the artists. And this is not my ego [talking].”

A hands-on guy, Pérez — who maintains a demanding schedule as Chairman and CEO of real estate empire The Related Group — also is seemingly ubiquitous in the art world. He makes a point of attending the major contemporary art fairs and biennales throughout the Americas and Europe. He cultivates relationships with existing and emerging artists. He regularly visits galleries big and small. And he personally inspects art offered for auction.

Jorge and Darlene Pérez at their Miami home. 'The Hunter' by Enrique Martinez-Celaya hangs in the background. The black-and-white sculpture in the foreground is a 1971 work by Spanish artist Francisco Sobrino, who died in 2014. Photograph by Nick Garcia.

Pérez’s strategy for bidding on art

While in London this past fall, he visited the three major auction houses — Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips — to review their contemporary art up for bid in early October. Often auction houses sell art way below what one would expect to pay at a gallery, he said, adding that he has to be selective because typically “a lot of them that go to auction are not good pieces.” But if he finds something he loves at a reasonable price, he will often put in a bid at double the estimate.

And I loved it. Not liked it. Loved it.

He becomes passionate about the work even before the bidding starts. For example, Pérez developed an interest in a series of wood cuts by Anselm Kiefer titled Teutoburg Forest and an untitled bronze sculpture by German abstract painter Günther Förg.

“Eight years ago, I had seen a Kiefer of faces,” he said, explaining his unrequited interest in the work. “They are done in this thick paper, which are almost engraved, the faces. At auction, it comes out that the book I loved is out for auction. These are unique, individual pieces. I think there are like 60 of them. I’m bidding on it. I think that I’m going to have it, because I’m going to bid like [crazy]. So, I’m hoping another guy that sees it is not nutty about it.”

He was equally enthralled with the Förg.

“It knocked my socks off,” he said. “From one side you see it, it’s a bronze. And it’s a window. When you see if from the other side, it’s almost like prints, as if somebody had punched the window. And he did it as a commission. They asked him for a commission and there’s this whole story behind it. And I loved it. Not like it. Loved it. So I said, [forget] it. I don’t care if that’s not his medium. I want my Günther Förg.”

Unfortunately, someone else was nutty for the Kiefer, paying more than one and a half times the high estimate, with a winning bid of $301,315. The Förg went for three times the high estimate, selling for $117,600.

Darlene and Jorge Pérez in their living room, where a bronze Gunther Gerszo sculpture rests by the fireplace, and Alex Katz's 'Alba' hangs above the mantle. A John Chamberlain crushed auto parts sculpture dominates the far corner of the room. Photograph by Nick Garcia.

Expertly navigating complicated art waters

It’s all part of the art of collecting, where one must set a limit and know when to fold. Sometimes it’s a matter of biding one’s time and a donor comes forward with a serendipitous gift, such as when inveterate collectors Mimi and Bud Floback donated one of Gerhard Richter’s famous squeegee paintings four years ago.

The museum may not have the budget for such a multimillion-dollar painting. But that doesn’t dampen interest and enthusiasm for one day owning more work by the artist.

We’ve got phenomenal curators to help us, but we’ve always gone by our gut.

Pérez currently has his eye on a couple of Richter’s Flow prints. They are a profusion of color in abstract images that resemble a painter’s palette and measure 39 by 78 inches each. Even at that size, they would fit comfortably inside Pérez’s 120-foot Benetti motor yacht, aptly named Andiamo. Italian for “Let’s go,” it suits his image as a man on the move. 

“I don’t care if the museum wants [the Richter prints] or not,” he said. “You know where I’m going to put both of those when I get them? In my boat.”

A city portrait titled 'South Bronx,' by Brazilian twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo (Os Gemeos), greets guests in the entranceway of Darlene and Jorge Pérez's home. Photograph by Nick Garcia.

Four current favorites

Jorge Pérez keeps track of the art he owns — and the art he wants to own — on his phone through Artfinder.com. It organizes his collection by artist’s name and nationality. And while  Pérez tends to collect by artist rather than individual works, he acknowledged being partial to a few recent acquisitions. He singled those out here, as well as one that his wife, Darlene, said even manages to capture the attention of their teenage son, Felipe, and his friends.

1. Walter & Zoniel, Iconostatus, 2012

sidebar 1 Walter and Zoniel_Iconostatus for sidebar

“I think they’re just unbelievably beautiful,” Pérez said of this work’s 18 photographic portraits of people randomly approached in one of England’s ghettoes. “On the background they use gold leaf in a very concrete fashion. So, if you took the faces out, you would almost be looking at concrete art or Latin American art.”

2. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Un Bimbo e Una Bimba, 2015

“We bought two very, very important pieces. This is not only a great, great 20th century artist, but also it’s about Cuba. It’s a beautiful piece of two Cuban children playing. Because of the mirror, you feel as if you are playing with them.”

3. Liliana Porter, El Hombre con el Hacha y Otras Situaciones Breves, 2017

sidebar 1 Liliana Porter for sidebar (1)
El Hombre con el Hacha y Otras Situaciones Breves.

“Liliana Porter is an artist from Argentina whom I adore. This is a million figures, but it’s all one piece of art. So, all of it comes to Miami, and there will be a room in the museum for an exhibit, before it gets put away.”

4. Darlene Pérez’s pick: Rafael Lozano Hemmer, Zero Noon, 2013

Zero Noon
Zero Noon. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

“Because it is something that is technologically driven, they’re engaged with the changes that they’re seeing,” Darlene Pérez said of Felipe and his pals. “Raw data is being collected constantly. It’s pretty wild. Hemmer, coming from MIT, is all about artificial intelligence, collecting data. He’s a genius, actually, in our world of art. He’s really pushing the needle.”  

Home Like a Museum

The Pérez home is like a mini-museum with an exhibit that rotates every time PAMM puts on a show.

“When we see a wall that is blank, it doesn’t last too long,” Darlene Pérez said. “We will change furniture around just to situate [the art], because every piece of art has a place on the wall that looks right for the area, the situation or the mood. We’ve got phenomenal curators to help us, but we’ve always gone by our gut.”

A massive armoire-type sculpture by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka migrated to their rec room after being on display in the living room on the upper floor. It currently occupies the area once designated for the family Christmas tree.

“With Christmas coming up, what’s going to happen?” Darlene wondered aloud, then laughed. “Realistically, we’re probably going to have to do something with the Christmas tree somewhere else, because, again, art takes precedence with where I’m going to put the Christmas tree. Or, maybe I’ll have a little Charlie Brown one.”

Editorial Credits

Words by Siobhan Morrissey / Photography by Nick Garcia / Hair, Makeup and Grooming by Andrea Echavarria and Vicky Mejia