Mexico's Medici

Eugenio López Alonso talks to The Daily Beast about his Colección Jumex, the largest private contemporary-art collection in Latin America, now on exhibit in Miami. VIEW OUR GALLERY

John Sciulli / WireImage; Sherrie Levine

As the culture crowd descends on Miami this week, all eyes will be on the eighth annual Art Basel fair to inject some more mojo into the contemporary market. But one event will truly be an American first: The debut of Mexico’s La Colección Jumex at the Bass Museum on Miami Beach.

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Art Beast: The Best of Art, Photography, and DesignOverseen by baby-faced Mexico City mogul Eugenio López Alonso, the Jumex is the largest private contemporary-art collection in Latin America—more than 1,300 pieces with strong focuses on both blue-chip Mexican and international talents. Almost a decade in the making, La Colección Jumex pairs works by the likes of Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha and Cy Twombly with modern Mexican masters such as Gabriel Orozco, Damian Ortega, and Daniel Guzman—all acquired by López himself, often with his artfully named dogs, Jasper and Pollock, by his side.

They’ll all be in Miami this week for the debut of Where Do We Go From Here? Selections from La Colección Jumex, which runs at the Bass through March 14 before decamping for the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. Curated by the Bass’ new executive director, Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the exhibition is a full-flavored tasting menu of the Jumex’s greatest works, exploring the crashing points between art, texts, urban anthropology, and the artists themselves.

“This is not simply some collection with the ‘requisite’ checklist of pieces or artists,” says Cubiñá, who arrived at the Bass last year from Miami’s indie-cool Moore Space. “This is a collection that truly follows its own voice—that creates a real dialogue between Mexico and the world.”

At the heart of that dialogue is the 41-year-old López himself, the sole heir to the Jumex fruit juice fortune whose foundation showcases his aesthetic vision as well as nurtures (and funds) the next generation of aesthetic talents—roughly $3.5 million annually.

While López’ vision may be rooted in Mexico, it was actually in Los Angeles where he first established his art world bona fides after moving north a decade ago. He opened a West Hollywood gallery, Chac Mool, which specialized in Latin American art, threw now-legendary parties at his art-covered Beverly Hills villa, and ultimately joined the board of LA MOCA in 2005. All the while, López was building his collection, now installed in a 15,000-square-foot glass box gallery on the sprawling Jumex factory estate one-half hour outside of Mexico City.

Today, La Colección Jumex is celebrated as the leading voice for contemporary Mexican art—both at home and abroad. Despite the accolades, López insists he has always collected with a nod toward to both his homeland and El Norte. “Mexicans have typically been very conservative with art, only buying from Mexican artists,” says López, who is also a board member of New York’s New Museum. “What I love about this country is the willingness to collect from every period and every nation—and I want to be part of this tradition.”

In Cubiñá’s hands, much of Where Do We Go From Here is spent critiquing this tradition by exploring the connections between seemingly disparate artists and artistic periods. “We show how artists have appropriated from one another, the ways artists influence other artists,” says Cubiñá, whose museum is far better known for displaying Baroque tapestries than cutting-edge conceptual works. “There’s Louise Lawler looking to Jasper Johns, Sherrie Levine to Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Gober to Marcel Duchamp, and Jonathan Monk to Sol LeWitt.”

While López and La Colección Jumex are certainly well known in art circles, Where Do We Go From Here marks their wide-scale debut. Yet the Miami show is merely a prelude to López’ next—a new Mexico City gallery now in development by British architect David Chipperfield. Slated to open in 2011—just in time for the Jumex’s 10th anniversary—the gallery will relocate López’ vast holdings from Mexico City’s periphery to its center near the posh Polanco district.

It also places Jumex literally alongside the new Museo Soumaya, now being built by fellow Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Named after his late wife, Slim’s museum will house his collection of 70 pieces by Rodin along with works by Matisse and Degas in a building designed by Rem Koolhaas protégé Fernando Romero. When completed, both museums will help cement Mexico City as a place where world-class art is not merely created, but successfully displayed, as well. They’ll also position Mexico—much like the U.S. or France—as a nation whose most serious collectors are now building temples to house their own vast treasure troves. “It’s similar to museums built by Bernard Arnault or Francois Pinault,” observes Gabriela Rangel, director of visual arts at the Americas Society in New York. “Mexico is now following the world in this privatization of culture.”

Despite their obvious similarities—marquee museums, limitless budgets, ascendant international profiles—López insists there’s no budding rivalry between Slim and himself. “I’m contemporary, he’s classic—he’s 19th century, I’m in the 20th,” he explains. As for Art Basel Miami—where López is likely to be shopping as well as showing—he’ll be front and center at the Bass this week, as eager to view the art as Miami is to view him. “I’m just happy to finally see my new Jenny Holzer piece,” López beams. “It was really too big to fit in my Mexico City apartment.”

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David Kaufman is a New York-based journalist who regularly contributes to The New York Times, The Financial Times, Time International and Wallpaper—and is the charming madness behind the blog TRANSRACIAL.