Located within a repurposed 28,000-square-foot warehouse in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood, El Espacio 23 (EE23) is a contemporary art space founded in 2019 by collector and philanthropist Jorge Perez, the real estate tycoon best known as chairman and CEO of the Related Group — although it may not mean anything to ordinary people and art lovers — and one of the visionaries behind Miami’s galloping transformation into a modern city and global epicenter of the arts at the crossroads of the Americas.
In the same way that Perez saw Miami from the beginning as “a great international city for traders and people who are always looking for business and possibilities in other countries — sort of like the Phoenicia of old, where everybody came together to do business and cultures merged,” the developer told the Times in 2005. He also understood that, however elusive and difficult to classify, art is the essential mortar to cement any great metropolis, the glue that spontaneously holds a community together.
EE23 comes in tandem with the most visible local artistic projects to which Perez has pledged his name and fortune: The Perez Art Museum of Miami (PAMM). His idea is that his collection and EE23 eventually end up under the PAMM umbrella. Although I am convinced that Miami needed a metropolitan art museum — like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) or the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York — a hallmark of the city, a neutral public institution and not that unfortunate American trend of semi-privatizing public initiatives that have been partially subsidized with public funds, Perez has managed to fill that challenging position, going from being a discreet private art and corporate collector— the Related Group also hosts a corporate collection of over 500 objects, maintains a curated selection of art within many projects and runs a regular acquisition program and a public art program, commissioning site-specific installations and artworks for its real estate projects — to a public patron of the arts, getting increasingly involved with projects, scholarships, artist residencies, and serving the general public of South Florida with a regular program of exhibitions and special projects drawn from the Pérez Collection through his own public space.
Since the inaugural exhibition “Time for Change: Art and Social Unrest in the Jorge M. Pérez Collection” (December 2019 – March 2021), just in time for that year’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair, the EE23 has exhibited some notably well-curated shows in its four years of operation. “Time for Change” was curated by Jose Roca, Founder and Director of FLORA ars+natura, Bogotá, in collaboration with Pérez Collection stewards Patricia M. Hanna, Art Director, and Anelys Alvarez, Assistant Curator and Collection manager at the Related Group and EE23.
EE23 has become a collaborative curatorial lab using the Perez collection as a theoretical playground and inviting independent curators to team up with the staff. “Witness: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” the exhibition impacted by the lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, extending from December 2020 to June 11, 2022, was co-curated by Zimbabwean curator Tandazani Dhlakama, Assistant Curator at Zeitz MOCAA.
Their most recent exhibition, “You Know Who You Are, Recent Acquisitions of Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection” (2022), showcased works acquired after donating a significant part of the Perez collection of contemporary Cuban art to the PAMM in 2016. The artworks shown were new acquisitions from 2017 to the preparation of the exhibition as part of an ongoing investigation and interest in art from Cuba and the Cuban diaspora.
What is next in the EE23 pipeline? A suggestively-titled show, “To Weave the Sky: Textile Abstractions from The Jorge M. Perez Collection,” will open in time for the next Miami Art Season as usual. EE23 facility is free from 10 am to 5 pm from Thursday to Saturday.
Although Perez confessed four years ago that El Espacio 23 was accidental. “I wish I could say I had the vision to do this. But no, it was like: ‘I need warehouse space’” [for his mushrooming collection], he told Artnet senior writer Sarah Cascone. The fortuitous always end up being integrated into a great project when you have the kind of strategic vision that has allowed Perez to survive and succeed in the most competitive of all businesses.
Especially when one is already sure that “Every time you perform an act, not only are you defining yourself, but you’re defining the world around you,” as Jorge Perez told the Times 20 years ago when the magazine profiled him as one of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America. He became an art world’s game changer following his intuition and perhaps without intending it. It’s already happening, but the better is yet to come. EE23 is just a beautiful piece of a giant puzzle.
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