In The City — 03 April 2015
Discerning eye turns buying art into art form

By Eric Barton

Patricia Hanna wandered her way through Mexico City’s massive Zona Maco art fair in early February having no idea what she might find. She had in her pocket a figurative blank check. She snapped photos of a few pieces that looked interesting and then messaged them to her boss. Maybe this painting or that sculpture. Maybe all of them.

Then she came upon an installation by up-and-coming Guadalajara artist Gonzalo Lebrija, and she stopped, captivated. The work was a series of books propped on shelves that covered a large wall. Each book had a hole, made when Lebrija pulled the trigger on a gun and shot right through the book. Perhaps it was a statement about the Internet destroying printed books. Or maybe it was just pretty. Either way, Hanna knew she must have it.

She took a photo and sent it off, telling the man in charge that she was going to start negotiations. On the other end of the photo and text message was billionaire developer Jorge Pérez, builder of 80,000 apartments, mostly in South Florida. He was in Asia – maybe Singapore or Vietnam – Hanna wasn’t sure.

“Beautiful. Where? For a project?” Pérez replied.

Fair questions, considering Hanna has two roles in her job with Pérez. She buys art for his vast personal collection, and she acquires art for his company, The Related Group.

“For a project,” Hanna typed.

“OK,” Pérez confirmed.

With that, Hanna was on to her next art conquest – and there have been many.

The 37-year-old from South Miami with two daughters started working for Pérez in spring 2013. The building boom had returned to South Florida, and her mandate was simple: buy enough art to fill every one of the many buildings under construction by The Related Group.

That means projects from West Palm Beach to Miami, including the Icon Las Olas building, which figures to become a focal point of Fort Lauderdale’s skyline; and two ultra high-end Auberge Resorts properties, on the beaches in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The buildings have so much open space for art that Hanna hasn’t stopped buying since she started. Last year alone she spent $10 million.

It may sound enviable to anyone who loves art, the idea of a near-bottomless wallet for whatever art excites you. But Hanna says it’s far more stressful than people know.

“Oh, I’m not where I need to be yet, but I will be,” she says, putting the back of her hand on her forehead as if swiping off sweat.

Hanna got the art bug when her family went on vacation and her parents would drag her to museums. She was in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., with her father when he pointed to a work by Modigliani and noted how the Italian painter always used elongated faces. She realized right then how each artist saw the world differently, and if you paid close enough attention you could name who created a piece without reading the card next to it.

She noticed something else too, how each work captured the way people saw the world in an era.

“Art is just a visual manifestation of what is happening at that certain time in history,” Hanna says.

After earning her master’s in art history from the University of Miami, she worked at the Lowe Art Museum as an assistant curator, then at Miami Art Central as the exhibition manager. She is best known for the decade she spent at the Cisneros Foundation, awarding grants to emerging artists.

Hanna was a stay-at-home mom when Pérez offered a job. Their relationship is such that she can confidently override her boss and buy things she believes the company should own – or tell him “no” when he has found something for himself that might not be quite right. But that’s rare, she says, because they have a similar discerning eye for what’s good art to buy.

And buy she does. Hanna travels constantly, mostly in Latin America. She doubled The Related Group’s art holdings in about a year and a half. There are now somewhere near 700 pieces in the corporate collection. Most haven’t found a home yet. They are stored until needed for a project. Sometimes she buys with spots in mind. For the Auberge Resorts projects, for example, she purchased works from Colombian sculptors Fernando Botero and Hugo Zapata.

Many of the pieces will end up in condo buildings, meaning residents who purchase a unit will own a portion of artwork that could be very valuable someday.

Perhaps the most visible of Hanna’s projects will be at Icon Las Olas, which will feature a sculpture garden out front when it opens in late 2016 or early 2017. She will get help selecting the works for the garden from Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator of NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. Hanna hopes the park will become a new draw for downtown.

“We are developing a building,” she says, “but we also want to contribute to the cultural growth of the city.”

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