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A Mexican multi-millionaire is building a replica of his northern Mexico mansion to serve as a museum for his art collection, an endeavor criticized because it is funded in large part with public money.
Mauricio Fernández Garza, 71, said he wants to give the public access to his collections of art, historic artifacts and fossils. He estimates their value at $120 million.
But it’s where the items will be housed that is causing a stir. The plan, approved while Fernández Garza was mayor of this wealthy enclave next to Monterrey, faced opposition even then as a public project to hold personal items of the then mayor.
There are some 400 pieces, some of which are already being transported to the new space. The length of their exhibition has not been set, but once it is over the space would become a cultural center to host other collections and events, according to a town spokesperson.
The local government has said the cost of the project is $9.7 million, of which 60% of the funding will be public. Fernández Garza has said he will put up 20 million pesos, or $984,000. Other private donations will make up the difference.
The building is a copy of Fernández Garza’s mansion high in the mountains above San Pedro Garza García. He named it “La Milarca” after a character from medieval literature. The original mansion is being dismantled and part transported to the Rufino Tamayo Park in town to form the new La Milarca museum.
The park is in an exclusive area surrounded by malls, pricey apartments and homes.
Fernández Garza, the scion of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the region, is casual and brusque in conversation. He is the grandson of Roberto Garza Sada, founder of Grupo Alfa, a conglomerate with interests in petrochemicals, food and telecommunications. Fernández Garza says he’s building the museum because he wants the public to see the pieces he has been collecting for 50 years.
“First, there are some pieces that are the cultural heritage of humanity. The reality is that where I lived it was very difficult, very complicated to do it there above,” he said. “It started from scratch, in a public place, where everyone is going to have access and you are going to be able to have events.”
Among the pieces are a self-portrait by painter Frida Kahlo, an oil canvas by Diego Rivera and works by other well-known Mexican artists including Rufino Tamayo, José Clemente Orozco and Francisco Toledo.
Also included are a plesiosaurus extinct for 66 million years named Mauriciosaurus Fernandezi, in recognition of Fernández Garza who turned it over to researchers after its 2011 discovery in Vallecillo, Nuevo Leon, and the aquilolamna milarcae, a sort of prehistoric shark with wing-like fins which was unknown until its discovery in 2012, also in Vallecillo, where Fernández Garza has supported work.
The museum’s construction is expected to finish this year. The building will incorporate seven gothic arches from the 13th and 14th centuries, as well as four ceilings from the 14th and 16th centuries that were part of his mansion. Fernández Garza said they are worth $50 million and were donated by his family as part of a deal with his successor as mayor.
The administration of Mayor Miguel Treviño initially suspended work on the project and reduced the budget from $18 million to $9.7 million. He also reduced the amount of park space the city gave to the project and cut two other planned museums for Fernández Garza’s collections.
“The discussion ended when we donated the ceilings, it was no longer a project to build something for my pieces, it is municipal heritage, I have no interest in using the municipality’s money for something of my own,” Fernández Garza said.
But for some the controversy continues. Gilberto Marcos, a local activist and leader of the nongovernmental public affairs organization Vertebra Nuevo Leon, said that while it could be good to have a new museum people remain unhappy about the use of public funds.
“From the start there were a lot of citizens against this project being done with public resources,” Marcos said. “The corrections they have made in the agreement (with the new mayor) are not going to satisfy those who were against it, because it doesn’t change that the decision was taken when he was mayor, the other issue being the resources.”
Fernández Garza served three three-year terms as mayor in 1989, 2009 and 2015. He was also a national senator and last year ran unsuccessfully for another term as mayor, losing to Treviño.
During his second term, Fernández Garza made national headlines when he announced the death of an alleged kidnapper hours before authorities found his body in Mexico City.
Diego Osorno, a journalist who co-directed the documentary “El Alcalde,” of “The Mayor,” about Fernández Garza’s crime-fighting tactics, said that despite the controversies and his style, he has become an iconic figure in the region.
“Mauricio is essentially a transgressive figure. Transgressive not only in business, in politics, in his personal life and in art,” Osorno said. “He is someone very focused and now his mission is that that museum ends up impeccable.”
Fernández Garza, who has also gained a following on the TikTok platform with more than 1.6 million followers, said that despite not being involved in politics right now, could not say what will happen in the future.