Latin American Collectors: Ella Fontals-Cisneros, the philanthropist as the new merchant of Latin American art

Posted on October - 2 - 2018

Photo: The Art Newspaper

Photo: The Art Newspaper

In the art world, some collectors are known worldwide. Depending on their engagement with artists, high rolling collectors are the new merchants of the arts, whose taste can be informed by personal preferences or by a group of consultants who do business out of advising collectors on the ‘right’ art to buy. In Latin America, collectors are of extreme importance to promote the careers of budding new artists or cement the long career of masters, which rings true, especially in countries where there is little support from the state and other organizations.

In the last decades, there is a name that resounds throughout Latin America for her contribution to the arts and support to artists. This is the name of Ella Fontanals-Cisneros. Brought up in Venezuela, the Cuban-born philanthropist began collection in the 1970s, centering on Venezuelan artists and expanding towards other Latin American artists. Fontanals-Cisneros collections orbits around significant themes such as contemporary video art, modern and contemporary photography and Latin American Geometric Abstraction, focusing on research and documentation to accompany its impressive collection.

As part of her cultural endeavors, Fontanals-Cisneros is an avid entrepreneur and supporter of the arts and has influenced the Miami art scene mainly through the significant work conducted by a non-profit set by her. The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) as founded in 2002 focuses on offering grants and commission to visual artists in Latin America, as well as showcasing works by Latin American artists. Allocating over $1.5 million each year towards the arts, CIFO has conducted exhibitions in both the US and in Europe and benefited over 120 artists in both exposure and economic assistance.

Photo: artnet


This year the Fontanals-Cisneros shook Miami with two major announcements. Early in January of this year, the entrepreneur stated that Cifo would close its warehouse space after being open to the public for over 16 years. The impressive collection, besides harboring the works of Latin American artists, it also included international names such a Vik Muniz, John Baldessari, Olafur Eliasson, and Ai Weiwei. Additionally, Fontanals-Cisneros publicised that she would be donating part of her Latin American art collection to the Spanish government, which will display it at La Tabacalera in Madrid. The newly refurbished building will be the new home of her 3,000 works by artists such as Carmen Herrera, Cildo Meireles, and Grete Stern.

As the void left by Cifo’s collection will be felt in Miami, the organization will continue to promote artists through grants and scholarships. This program has made a substantial contribution to Latin American art, where many artists have had the opportunity to pursue their artists’ careers in an international setting.

It is collectors and philanthropists like Fontanals-Cisneros that contribute to promoting art and artists. What is most striking about Cifo is its long and fruitful career, which sprang from the vision of a woman, who not only had the means to conduct such a task, but also the passion and determination to see her dream through.

By: Gabriela Martinez de la Hoz