When Ella Fontanals-Cisneros announced almost exactly two years ago that she would donated some 400 artworks to the Spanish state in order to establish a museum of Latin American art in Madrid, she was in a way bucking a recent trend that has seen top art collectors found their own private museums instead of giving their holdings to major institutions. Now, the Spanish-language newspaper El País reports that those plans have been called off. The choice to cancel on the donation, she said, was because of a disagreement with the Spanish culture minister and concerns over how the art would be displayed.
Last October, she reportedly received a letter from Spain’s new minister of culture and sports, José Guirao, saying that as the preliminary agreement stood, he couldn’t accept the donation, citing legal issues and unanswered questions. Fontanals-Cisneros, who appeared on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list from 2006 to 2018, had originally signed the agreement with Guirao’s predecessor Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, whose government was ousted after a vote of no confidence a few months later.
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Among Guirao’s concerns were that the agreement didn’t specify exactly which 400 works from Fontanals-Cisneros’s over 3,500 object collection—which includes work by Lygia Clark, Antonio Días, Jac Leirner, Luis Camnitzer, Gabriel Orozco, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres—would go to the state. (The majority of them are in storage in Miami, while the others are hung in her three residences in Madrid, New York, and Mérida, Mexico.)
In the El País report, Fontanals-Cisneros cited her own concerns over Guirao’s letter. In particular, she took issue with the fact that the government wanted to designate the planned venue to house her collection as an exhibition space, not a museum.
When the project was announced, the donation was to be housed in the Tabacalera, a former cigar factory in Madrid that the government was renovating to also house temporary exhibitions from other state-controlled museums. Speaking to El País, Fontanals-Cisneros called the building “disastrous” and said that it needed at least 10 million euros for a renovation project that would make it meet quality standards. “They never had that money nor did they look for a special source to obtain it.”
Additionally, she didn’t agree with the suggestion that the museum’s board would include political representatives, as she didn’t want changing politics to affect its management.
“But more than the concrete details,” Fontanals-Cisneros told the Spanish daily, “what I perceived was a refusal to continue with the project. It surprised me coming from a person like José Guirao, with knowledge in fine arts.”
Fontanals-Cisneros had previously tried to create a private museum to house her collection on two previous occasions in Miami, but, as she told El País, “it was a failure. It didn’t work out.” A month prior to the 2018 agreement, she had announced that she would close her Miami exhibition space.