Over the past five decades, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and her husband, Gustavo A. Cisneros, have amassed one of the world’s most significant collections of Latin American art. They are among the very few collectors to have appeared in every edition of the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list. A longtime trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Phelps de Cisneros has donated more than 200 works to MoMA, and funded the establishment of a research institute on Latin American art there.
What is your earliest memory?
So many of my earliest memories are of my great-grandfather, the ornithologist William Henry Phelps (1875–1965), and his fascinating collection of tropical bird specimens. I remember spending time with him as a young girl in Venezuela, amazed at his drive to preserve the natural world. It inspired my awareness of the extraordinary level of care and detail needed to preserve a collection and make it available for study.
Where are you most content?
At our home by the sea with my love, my husband of 52 years.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m rereading In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, a book that shaped the way I look at art—and the world. I’m also reading Estrella de Diego’s new book El Prado Inadvertido, and The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin.
What are you listening to?
Our Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC) team is obsessed with Kermesse, an Argentinean duo we discovered through a 2021 collaboration.
What makes art valuable?
When I think about what makes something valuable, I think about cultural value and educational value—that’s first and foremost for me, and is what informs the work of the CPPC. I believe that an artwork’s value is tied directly to what it means for a culture and a people, how it can broaden horizons, bring underrepresented voices forward, and start new conversations. If it can do that, that’s valuable.
If you could own any artwork (not already in your collection), what would it be?
Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, no question. I’d always wanted to see it side by side
with paintings by Latin American artists like [Joaquín] Torres-García and Alejandro Otero from our collection, but since I couldn’t, we are happy to have donated their artworks to MoMA and so, today
all three artists hang side by side and engage in dialogue.
What’s something you do at home that might surprise people?
Drink Phony Negroni!
If you could travel back in time to any period of art history, which would it be?
The past is overrated. Let’s look forward! Appreciate the past, learn from it, but move forward.
Who was a mentor to you?
There are so many people who have guided me over the years. First, Sofía Imber, the founder of the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas, who was invaluable in teaching me how to look at art. Also, the wonderful dealer Thomas Ammann, and of course, Paulo Herkenhoff, the curator and Brazilian art critic, and a dear friend.
What was your best experience in a museum?
The Teshima Art Museum in Japan emulates a single water droplet standing still on a solid surface. The installation Matrix by artist Rei Naito and architect Ryue Nishizawa has water droplets continuously emerging from various parts of the interior’s floor. The whole experience was sublime.
What is most virtuous about the art world?
The way in which the canon expands (always expanding, never contracting) to include voices that were previously marginalized.
What is most ridiculous about the art world?
The speculation and speed with which fashions come and go.
A version of this article appears in the 2022 edition of ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors issue.