Raymond James exec seeking home for massive art collection - FOX 13 News

Raymond James exec seeking home for massive art collection

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - Very few cities get offers to build museums like this one:

"I will put up enough money to build the building, and I will put up enough money to start the endowment of the museum, to be large enough so that sustainability over the longer term is not an issue for the city or anybody else," says Raymond James Financial Services executive chairman Tom James.

James is talking about the future of his sizable art collection.

"I have 2,500 paintings and sculptures, so there's no way that I could show that all in one museum anyway," James continued. "So I want to take a portion of the best pieces of art that I have and put them downtown."

By comparison, the long-time president of the Salvador Dali Museum said the Dali owns "about 100" original Dali paintings.

"So I need to find a pretty big space, and you know my favorite place?" he asked, then quickly answered, "I would have been at the base of the Pier, if you ask me where would I like it to be, I'd like to be at the base of the Pier."

That politically volatile location is by no means a deal breaker. In fact, James said "[It] doesn't have to be on the waterfront, it needs to be walking distance, I think, from the downtown places where you would stay."

However, he wants at least 30,000 square feet, plus parking, plus space for some of the life-sized bronze sculptures now displayed outside Raymond James' corporate headquarters.

"I gotta get it done," James says, confessing "my wife says, ‘you're not leaving this for me, are ya?’ She does not want to be in charge of building a museum."

Those pieces and about half of the entire collection are Western art, but his collection is not limited to that.

"I have paintings of all kinds, they're not just western. I have a lot of wild life art, I have modern art," he said.

Viewings of the variety now require a reservation to tour the Raymond James campus.

"You couldn't possibly collect like I collect if you didn't have a million square feet of space," James said. "I mean, this is a museum within an office space."

James foresees a development process similar to the Dali's. Owning and displaying art is not the sole goal.

"You want to have it be a part of the community, a positive influence on the community," James said, referring to ancillary education and outreach activities.

In recent years, his purchases have been more selective: He started collecting as a means of supporting artists he knew and liked, but now he buys important pieces at auctions, works by deceased artists known as "antecedents.”

"Remember, I was helping living artists, and I said if I'm going to have a museum, I've got to be able to tell the story of the chronology of the development of the artists," he explained.

The executive said he "came close" to finding a location when Rick Baker was mayor of St. Petersburg, and accepts responsibility for not following through back then.

"I haven't had enough time to spend on some of these activities, but I'm making a significant and conscious effort to do that now," James said, suggesting multiple motivations for renewing the site search.

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