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A patron with all the juice

Fortunate son Eugenio Lopez Alonso has built a contemporary collection ripe with Latin American inspiration.

June 18, 2006|Reed Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Mexico City — GREETING guests on his penthouse rooftop, Eugenio Lopez Alonso seems to have all the requisite props for his jet-set playboy lifestyle.

Swingin' bachelor pad crammed with expensive artworks? Check. Second home in Beverly Hills, done up in chic, high-Modernist style? Check. Two yippy dogs, named Jasper (as in Johns) and Pollock (as in Jackson)? Yup. Posse of glamorous, attractive pals hanging out nearby? Check.

Private source of steady income? Um, you're kidding, right?

As sole heir to Mexico's Jumex juice fortune, Lopez could live like a pasha without lifting a finger for the rest of his life. But unlike so many of his pampered peers, the 38-year-old scion has put his millions (or rather, his family's) where his mouth (or rather, his discriminating eye) is.

In the late 1990s, Lopez began to acquire a reputation as perhaps the most important contemporary art collector in Latin America. Armed with his family's checkbook and guided by savvy advisors, he sought out and purchased important pieces by the likes of Cy Twombly, Donald Judd, Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons, Nancy Rubins, Francis Alys, Lari Pittman, John Baldessari and other artists of international stature.

Lopez also emerged as a steadfast patron of up-and-coming Mexican artists such as Gabriel Orozco and Damian Ortega, helping to shift their careers into high gear. All told, he has spent an estimated $50 million to $80 million of the family lucre on objets d'art.

Since March 2001, Lopez's striking assemblage of contemporary works, officially known as La Coleccion Jumex, has been open to the public, housed in a 15,000-square-foot white cube of a building on the grounds of the giant Jumex plant in Ecatepec, a gritty industrial area about half an hour north of the capital. Although the collection -- tucked behind steel vats of apple and pear juice, and requiring passage through two security checkpoints -- isn't easy to get to, it's well worth the trouble: Lopez's 1,300-piece collection is one of the largest private art collections open to the public in Latin America, as well as one of the world's most important public showcases of Latin American art. (About 15% of the collection consists of works by Mexican artists.)

Today, Lopez is a frequent flier on the global art-buying circuit, the kind of shopper whose arrival can send auction-house minions tripping over themselves. Although he still holds the largely ceremonial post of Jumex marketing director, his real vocation is scouring auctions and art fairs and chatting with artists, gallery habitues, curators, museum directors and fellow collectors.

"He's on the move constantly," says Abaseh Mirvali, 36, the Iranian American director of the Jumex Foundation, which administers the art collection. "He is such a great part of picking the pieces, that if he wasn't traveling and educating himself and reading and meeting, we'd really lose."


Cash and credentials

FORTUNATE sons who set themselves up as connoisseurs always risk being ridiculed as dilettantish poseurs. But Lopez is respected for his taste and foresight as well as his bank account, and is widely credited with raising the global profile of contemporary art and artists here in his hometown.

His foundation recently underwrote a major exhibition of work by L.A. artist Ruscha at Mexico City's Rufino Tamayo Museum, the capital's premier public venue for contemporary art. Mirvali says that the foundation awards about $3.5 million in scholarships every year. It also lends art for exhibitions and supports a variety of educational programs in Mexico and the United States.

Ramiro Martinez, the Tamayo's director, lists Lopez's principal assets as "an excellent eye," "good advisors" and the wherewithal to form a truly international art collection that also has managed to integrate top-notch Mexican artists. "I believe that this has aided in the visibility of contemporary Mexican artists outside of Mexico," he says.

By digging into his own pocket to support contemporary art, Lopez has encouraged more rich Mexicans to support cutting-edge video, conceptual, installation and digital works. That takes a rare talent in a culturally conservative country like Mexico, says Richard Koshalek, president of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and former director of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, on whose board Lopez sits.

"People collect in Mexico, but they tend to be very traditional in their tastes," Koshalek says. "I think what really interested me in Eugenio was his exploratory instincts. He seemed to have an eye on the future, he seemed to be concerned with emerging artists. That takes a tremendous amount of intellectual courage."

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