Art Collector Jorge Pérez on Miami, Museums and New Mediums

The prominent philanthropist is particularly interested in the impact of digitization on the art market.

Man in navy suit stands with arms crossed in front of multi-colored striped wall
Jorge Pérez. Courtesy Related Group

There’s no question that Miami has in recent years transformed into one of the nation’s most vibrant cultural capitals. Between the city’s annual art week and the local edition of Art Basel; bustling artsy neighborhoods like Allapattah and Wynwood; and the proliferation of art museums opened by private collectors, the city has cemented its status as an artistic hot spot.

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Billionaire philanthropist Jorge Pérez is one of the city’s most vocal champions. The 74-year-old head of Florida-based real estate developer Related Group, Pérez grew up in Argentina and Columbia before making his way to the U.S. Though he started his collecting journey focused on Latin American artists, Pérez’s collection is comprised of more than 6,000 pieces of contemporary art by a diverse range of artists, including Kiki Smith, Ai Weiwei and Fernando Botero.

Pérez has an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion and has funneled much of that fortune into Miami’s art scene. “From very early on, I knew that art was at the heart of any great city,” he told Observer. He’s given millions to institutions like the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which changed its name from the Miami Art Museum following his 2011 gift of $20 million and an assortment of Latin American artwork. But his support didn’t end there. Pérez has pledged his entire collection to the museum and donated an additional $25 million in November.

In 2019, he opened a private museum in Miami to house his growing art holdings. Known as El Espacio 23, its current shows include “To Weave the Sky,” a textile art exhibition with more than 150 works by intergenerational and multinational artists. Pérez’s philanthropic initiatives include the CreARTE art grants program from the Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, which aims to advance arts equity through increased accessibility and education. “Art has a unique ability to serve as a bridge between people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs,” said Pérez. “No matter the medium, art can also ignite one’s imagination and spark new ideas.”

Observer recently spoke with Pérez, who was included in the 2023 Most Influential People in the Art World Power List, about his collecting interests and the trends he’s keeping an eye on in the art market. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What first inspired your interest in art?

My mother ingrained in me an enthusiasm for art and culture from a very early age. She’d take me to the best museums throughout Latin America and around the world, and while I didn’t know it at the time, these trips laid the foundation of a lifelong passion for appreciating and collecting art.

As I got older, this passion grew out of a desire to stay connected to my homeland. After I finished school in the U.S., I had a lot of nostalgia for my roots in Latin America, so I used art to transport me there. It was a way for me to reconnect with the culture of my parents and my parents’ parents. In fact, in my first 20 years as a collector, I focused almost exclusively on Latin American art.

How do you select art for your collection, and what are some of your favorite pieces and artists at the moment?

I follow my instincts and buy only what I truly love. It can be easy to get caught up in financial appreciation and overall “hype,” but ultimately the only factor that truly matters to me is whether or not the piece sparks an emotion in me.

The first piece I bought was a lithograph by Man Ray, and it’s still one of my favorite pieces. I was a broke college student in 1970 but had a knack for dorm-room poker. As soon as I made my first winnings, I ran out and bought the piece. Not only is it from an incredible, internationally renowned artist who has had an immense impact on several artistic movements, but it sparked strong emotions in me.

Another current favorite is a painting by American Abstract Expressionist painter and visual artist, Lee Krasner, named Number 2, which we acquired in 2023 and is on display in “To Weave the Sky.”

What factors make Miami’s art scene unique?

Miami is an interesting city because it sits at the crossroads of the U.S. and Latin America. This creates an incredible melting pot when it comes to art—we have artists from all over the world and all walks of life. Regardless of where you go to see art, whether a formal institution like the Pérez Art Museum Miami, public spaces like the Wynwood Walls or even a private collection space, the diversity in artists and mediums is endless.

What incentivized you to support institutions like PAMM and why did you decide to open El Espacio 23?

In the late 2010s when the opportunity arose to help Miami-Dade County open its first truly great museum, I knew I had to get involved. It was honestly an honor to support this great cause, not only because of the impact it had on Miami, but also because of the example it set for other leaders in the region.

Of course, this museum being owned and managed by the County definitely limits my involvement. While I have some influence on which pieces are purchased, decisions around curation and exhibits ultimately fall to the museum staff, which eventually led me to open El Espacio 23. This new space allows my team and me total creative freedom. Since El Espacio 23’s opening in 2019, we’ve put on four amazing shows and hosted countless artists as part of our residency program. It’s been an incredible experience and one I look forward to continuing in the years to come.

Eventually, most pieces from my collection will probably be donated to PAMM so in a way, my involvement will never stop—which I love.

Moving forward, is there anything you believe must change in the art world?

I believe we need more collectors who are willing not only to accumulate art for themselves but also to share it with the public. This also extends to collectors serving as patrons of local institutions and helping foster a diverse approach not only in their own collections but also in the community.

Have you found any unexpected parallels between the real estate and art industries?

In my 50 years of collecting art and developing real estate, I’ve learned that at the core of all of the world’s great cities is a thriving community of artists and creatives. I’ve also seen that art has the power to completely transform neighborhoods and give a voice to those who are otherwise underrepresented.

These points are always top of mind, which is why we infuse every project—no matter the price point—with museum-quality art. Through our various foundations, we also work with local non-profits to create programs that support and nurture the next generation of creatives.

What trends are you currently watching in the art market?

In addition to the push to increase diversity and accessibility in art, it has been really interesting to see how digitization is changing the art market. I’ve developed an appreciation for the transparency the digital art world has to offer, as pieces are more readily available through digital galleries. I think this has contributed to making the art world a bit less intimidating for those who would’ve otherwise been hesitant to engage with it.

There’s also something fascinating about the new mediums digitization has given way to. Think massive video-based works or even entire installations centered around projections of well-known pieces. The immersive viewing experience with these works and installations is like no other. We saw a bit of this trend at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2023, but I look forward to watching it evolve further. We may even include a large-scale video piece in our next show at El Espacio 23—stay tuned.

Who are some of the most powerful people shaping the art world today?

Beyond those involved in increasing accessibility and inclusivity, I think the artists themselves deserve major props when it comes to shaping today’s art world. Day in and day out, these individuals are creating and sharing their passions and experiences with the world. The messages conveyed through their work, the different mediums explored and much more all possess the power to shape the way everyday people view and perceive art. Without artists, there would be no art world.

Art Collector Jorge Pérez on Miami, Museums and New Mediums