The following is a recent interview with Eugenio López Alonso, the Mexican art patron responsible for facilitating La Colección Jumex, the singular largest art collection in Latin America, funded solely on the profits of the Jumex Group, one of the biggest juice producers in the world. Credited with single handedly pushing contemporary Mexican art and artists into the contemporary Western art market due to his commitment to philanthropy, Alonso has created opportunities for young artists to develop their practice through the implementation of funds, awards for art study in the US, underwriting Latin focused museum programs and providing financial assistance in setting up artist run initiatives in Mexico City. It felt pertinent to examine Alonso’s model of artistic support as young Australian artists continue to struggle not only for funding but against a pervasive desire to shun big business as self serving. Alonso’s model shows hope for a future where artists and big business can foster a symbiotic relationship of earned cultural business capital and better structured funding opportunities for artists.
Kirsty Hulm : Where did your interest in the promotion of contemporary Mexican artists begin?
Eugenio López Alonso : I believe that creators, regardless of their place of origin or of their nationality are one of the main driving forces of growth, development and transformation in a country’s cultural sphere. If we analyze this in the visual arts sector, we can see there are many things that have not been done that it would be desirable to have done, for example: channel important resources to generate and bring exhibitions, develop research, produce artistic projects that showcase creators not only for Mexico but also outside of the country for the benefit of their careers.
KH : I have read in articles that your father was not keen on the idea of collecting when you first came to him with the idea, but he has since embraced it — what were his initial concerns and why did he come around?
ELA : I think that in the beginning, his reticence was due not to the nature of the project but to the true realisation of it. In the beginning there was no way of knowing if all the work that was needed to make this work was going to be done. Fortunately, over time, he could see that this project became a reality, that behind my proposal there is a real commitment for this to continue growing.
KH : Why did you make the decision to align the collection with the Jumex brand name, thus giving it a corporate identity, rather than have the collection recognised as private?
ELA : I think that it is a fair recognition of the origins of La Colección. Without Grupo Jumex, this collection simply would not exist, neither would the Fundación, through which bursaries for artists and projects are granted, apart from other programs that have social and educational benefits.
KH : Corporate art intervention is an increasingly popular way to boost a businesses socio-ethical profile — to what extent do you believe companies have some obligation to take over private patronage by injecting profit back into the public sector?
ELA : I think that greater efforts could be made to incentivise this practice. For example, there could be an increase in the deductible base for businesses that support cultural and educational development in the country. There are countries in Europe where tax support for patronage has helped to develop much more awareness in businesses and genuine interest in the cultural phenomenon among the population. Tax incentives might be a successful way to make people take an interest in the cultural phenomenon and in programs of social benefit.
KH : What social responsibilities do you think the collector holds? And since the collection is a part of the Jumex Corporation, what corporate social responsibilities have influenced your decision making?
ELA : I think the responsibilities of collectors depend on each one personally — there are those who decide to keep their collections for their private enjoyment and those who decide to share them. I think both options are valid. In my case, I definitely consider supporting young artists and cultural projects to be of vital importance. Speaking of the collection and the institution around it, I feel that we reflect the ideas of Grupo Jumex by looking for the individual’s well-being and collective development in the artistic, cultural, academic and educational spheres.
KH : How do you as an individual define the boundaries between your private profits and your benefit for the public good?
ELA : La Colección is not a financial investment for me, it is a cultural investment. I have never sold a piece and I do not think I will do it in the near future since all of them have been carefully selected. I think it transcends money. I enjoy these pieces and I think those who visit the exhibitions also have the opportunity of knowing more about contemporary creation, or if they receive our support they can continue with their preparation as artists or curators or complete an artistic process. Not to mention the educational benefit that is generated around each exhibition, both on our space and off it.
KH : The magnitude of corporate collecting has brought about massive changes in the kind of artworks being collected worldwide, and the way in which works function in a business context has become an important consideration for young artists — what is your view on this new focus, for both artists and companies?
ELA : I think that the recent instability and changes in the economy have had an important influence on the art market. However this has motivated galleries and fairs to think much more about who they are betting on, and I would like to think that this will increase the quality of the works exhibited. I think now collectors and businesses are thinking more about the works they add to their collections.
KH : You fund many programs to benefit young artists. What was it that you saw lacking in opportunities for these artists which made you decide to take on the role of philanthropist?
ELA : In Mexico there are different institutions that offer financial support and bursaries to upcoming artists, however I do not think they are enough. It is very important for curators to renew and strengthen their vision so that they can criticise and keenly reflect upon the artistic scene in our country, and upon what is happening in other places and other cultures. Evidently, if artists have more opportunities it is all for the better.
KH : Where do you see the future of artistic/cultural production heading, and what role do you think collections and exhibitions will continue to play?
ELA : Exhibitions are definitely the most common showcase for artistic creations and collections are keeping many of these pieces in motion. Through my work, I have tried to open up the panorama for other production alternatives, where the artistic models behave in a different way from what we have in our country.
KH : You are opening a new gallery in Polanco in 2011. How will this be different or similar to the current La Colección Jumex Gallery, and what fuelled the decision for a new space?
ELA : Opening a new space in the city does not mean that La Colección will disappear from Ecatepec. On the contrary, it will be an opportunity to attend to more people, to consider projects that perhaps need another type of space. It is an expansion of La Colección to meet the needs and demands of our cultural agency and the changes we have planned.
KH : How do you see your role as a philanthropist being shaped by the future? What influence does the economy or trends have on your involvement?
ELA : Although it would be impossible to deny that the economy plays a crucial role in the managing an institution and a collection, fortunately the support we have from Grupo Jumex is essential to the sustainability of the institution. Consequently, we are making changes to have a better administration of our resources but our work has not stopped and will not stop in any area at the Fundación.
KH : How do you decide whose work to add to your collection — are you fuelled by passion or business, or both?
ELA : First, it depends on my taste and my ideas, but always trying to maintain the same line and focus. Another important criterion is the impact that linguistic and conceptual strategies have on current artistic discourses. Finally, I rely on a group of professionals who advise and recommend certain pieces and artists.
KH : You are involved in such a huge variety of undertakings in the art community — do you see a time coming where you will want to lessen your involvement?
ELA : On the contrary, I believe that all the steps we have taken as an institution have the firm intention of reaching more and more people and of supporting contemporary art in my country. I believe that over time certain adjustments will be needed in the institution so that, without diminishing its work, it can work in a more efficient manner. If on the way there are projects that are left aside, hopefully it will be because we have found better ways of working.