A Labor of Love

Article excerpt

Byline: Alexis Okeowo

Eugenio Lopez is helping Latin American artists get a little respect.

The sticky, sweet smell of crushed fruit emanates from La Coleccion Jumex, the gallery housing the private art collection of Eugenio Lopez Alonso, heir to Mexico's multi-billion-dollar Jumex juice fortune. Open to the public, the gallery is located on the gritty outskirts of Mexico City in a compound of factories that produce juice, beans and soups under the Jumex brand. Giant silver canisters and small tractors rest in the alleyway outside the building, and cans of Jumex juice sit on the reception counter for thirsty visitors. With its airy layout and frequent films, workshops and artist lectures, the Jumex Collection has become one of Mexico City's most popular art spaces.

Three or four times a year, the gallery launches new exhibits with lavish parties that last into the wee hours, complete with art-world big shots, live music and free-flowing alcohol. They--as much as the works they celebrate--bear the distinct mark of Lopez, a well-known man about town who happens to own one of the biggest art collections in Latin America. Estimated to be worth between $50 million and $80 million, it encompasses more than 1,800 works by such artists as Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol, as well as by established and up-and-coming contemporary Latin American artists. "I believe I did something that was never done in Latin America," says Lopez, who began collecting in 1990 and opened his art to the public in 2001, once he'd amassed about 400 pieces. "I wanted to create an important collection for my country."

Through his private collection and joint foundation, La Fundacion/Coleccion Jumex, Lopez aims to put Mexican talent on the map in the United States, as well as to bring international art south of the border. Funded entirely by Grupo Jumex, the privately held Mexican company owned by his father, Lopez's foundation backs numerous contemporary-art exhibitions in Mexico City and also gives grants to artists so they can travel outside the country to study. "I saw there were a lot of very good artists here in Mexico who had no chance to go outside," says Lopez, 41, bouncing forward on his cowboy-boot-clad feet and running his fingers through his hair. Boyishly charming, Lopez smiles often and is fond of repeating the line, "I don't want to sound pretentious." Despite his reputation as a party boy--his assistant had to reschedule our interview because he had not yet recovered from a late-night dinner--Lopez is clearly committed to promoting Latin American art. He never buys just one piece from an artist he likes, and some of the names he started collecting years ago have soared to international fame. Among them: modernists Damian Ortega and Gabriel Orozco, who have gained reputations well beyond their native Mexico, even staging solo shows in Europe and America.

Lopez has also cultivated young Mexican artists such as Gabriel Kuri, Pablo Vargas Lugo and Abraham Cruz Villegas, who all work in a variety of media and are poised to succeed in "crossing over" into the wider art world, says Lopez. …