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How A Miami Billionaire's $100 Print Became A $20 Million Collection

"It was ages ago," says Jorge Perez with a laugh, recalling the first artwork he ever invested in.

It was purchased when Perez was still a young student in New York, years before he became a billionaire developer and the man Time Magazine dubbed the "Donald Trump of the tropics.”

"It was a Miró.  A Miró lithograph.  It cost me $100,” says Perez, with another chuckle.  “I still have it in my office.”

Perez’s appreciation of the Spanish painter’s abstract style sparked a love affair with Latin American art that’s lasted decades and resulted in a collection valued at $20 million.  It also led to controversy when, in 2011, Perez donated a portion of that collection to the Miami Art Museum in exchange for naming rights to the museum’s new home on Biscayne Bay, scheduled to open in December.

But the public doesn’t have to wait until the ribbon-cutting to see Perez’s collection.  A selection of 43 works is now on display at MAM’s current location through June 2nd.

The exhibition,  “Frames of Reference,” features works by Latin American masters including José Bedia, Beatriz González and Diego Rivera.  Cuban, Argentine, Mexican and Colombian artists are represented, as are artists from Chile, Peru and Uruguay.

“Over 50 percent of Miami is of Hispanic descent. And a lot of kids are going to forget their heritage if they’re not exposed to it." - Jorge Perez

For Perez, who was born in Argentina to Cuban parents, collecting Latin American art was a way of staying in touch with his heritage. Donating it, he says, is a way of making sure others remember theirs.

“Over 50 percent of Miami is of Hispanic descent.  And a lot of kids are going to forget their heritage if they’re not exposed to it,” says Perez.

When asked to point out which is hardest to part with, Perez laughs yet again.

“That’s impossible,” he says.  But two of his personal favorites are “Crucifixion,” a painting by Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta and “Double Nude II,” an abstract work by Cuban painter Wifredo Lam. (Both are shown in the slideshow above.)

Perez admits that surrendering forever the artwork that graced his own private residence for so long, “hurt a little bit.”

 “But if people enjoy it, then it’s going to be a great joy for me.”

“Frames of Reference: Latin American Art from the Jorge M. Perez Collection” runs through June 2nd.

Miami Art Museum is at 101 W. Flagler St., Miami.