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Pérez Art Museum Miami: a Milestone of the Art Boom in Miami

Miami’s premier art museum at 35 is a gleaming testament to the city’s commitment to art with the connection to the past and present as clear as a pink fabric. The museum is at the center of Miami’s evolution in arts and one of the most visited places in South Florida.

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The Perez Art Museum Miami reached a real milestone recently when it turned 35 in a city that has seen an enormous art boom in the last two decades. The gorgeous multi-tiered building on the bay is a gleaming testament to the city’s commitment to art, a few blocks but a world away from their artsy startup downtown in 1984.

That connection to the past and present was clear as pink fabric when the institution and then director Jan van der Marck thought outside of the Center for the Fine Art – the museums first name – and asked outdoor installation artist Christo and Jeanne-Claude to come to Miami and create something extraordinary.

And they did!

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Surrounded Islands was the result – a group of small islands in the bay was “wrapped” around the watery edges with bright fuchsia pink fabric. The project was met with concern from environmental and wildlife activists as well as residents when it was first proposed. But Christo and Jeanne-Claude persevered to ensure the artistic integrity and safety to the environment.

The project was an enormous success, marked the birth of Miami’s international artistic profile, and was celebrated with a jam-packed blockbuster anniversary exhibit at the new museum that was attended by Christo. Drawings, photos, films, and an actual huge roll of the original pink fabric was exhibited.

Back in 1984 the Center for the Fine Arts opened in the Phillip Johnson designed fortress-like raised limestone block on Flagler Street facing the Miami Main Library and the smaller History Miami Museum. As the arts writer for the Sun-Sentinel back then, they were the only game in town that I wrote about, the shows they produced were more in tune with the art scene in New York as they exhibited Cindy Sherman, Barbara Ess, and Philip Taaffe among other cutting edge artists in traveling shows.

“The CFA was not started as a collecting institution,” says current Director Franklin Sirmans, sitting in one of the expansive galleries at PAMM. The savvy Sirmans has been here for five years, having arrived from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in October 2015.

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FILE PHOTO: Director Franklin Sirmans standing in front of a Basquiat drawing in 2016 (Photo Sandra Schulman)

“Their goal was to curate an edgy space but not to collect which is why they did not call themselves a museum at first. The thought was that they would evolve eventually along with the city. That went on for ten years, then they started pulling a group of collectors together who lived here who were also philanthropists and civic-minded. Some of the early pieces the museum acquired were works by Gerard Richter and Robert Rauschenberg which are on exhibit as part of our The Gift of Art show on the ground floor. Those pieces became the foundation of a place we can call our own. There needed to be a pride in Miami and point of view as a place changing along with influences from the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora. We needed to help represent that change.”

While the name changed, the building remained the same. The new Miami Art Museum (MAM) continued to grow its collection and exhibits of contemporary edgy work. When Art Basel Miami came blowing through the scene like a hurricane, it was apparent the stately old downtown walled in limestone structure was not the world-class vision it needed to be. Building a new museum as elegant and promising as the city was started with eyes to the waterfront downtown. Ultimately designed by Herzog and de Meuron, the idea was to mimic the raised structures of Stiltsville at 1103 Biscayne Boulevard.

View of the waterfront and surrounding vegetation at PAMM (Photo Pedro Penalver, FL Daily Post)

The grand PAMM was part of a bigger picture that included the $275 million Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science and a 20-acre city park now called Museum Park, formerly Bicentennial Park. With hanging fern and moss columns, expansive water frontage and views accessed by a grand staircase, a large back patio with café, a theater, gift shop, and enormous second-floor galleries, the museum was a hit. An eight-figure donation along with art from real estate developer Jorge Perez gave him naming rights.

Since the opening in 2013, Pérez Art Museum Miami has seen record attendance levels with over 150,000 visitors in its first four months, surpassing the 200,000 visitors expected in its first year at the new location. The former location saw about 60,000 visitors annually on Flagler Street. In 2014, the museum’s permanent collection contained over 1,800 works, by 2016, the museum’s collection contained nearly 2,000 works.

(This installation by Jesus Rafael Soto called Penetrable BBL bleu [2/8/199] is placed outdoor at the PAMM for visitors to interact with. Jesús Rafael Soto (1923–2005) was a Paris-based Venezuelan artist best known for his kinetic sculptures and large-scale optical installations.)

“We do a combination of collecting,” Sirmans says. “We purchase out of the shows we exhibit and meet twice a year with our Collectors Council to review other works being offered. The Council has been together for 15 years and has 40 patrons that pay to be involved. Developer Craig Robins helps choose the group. We aim to keep a continuity of what the CFA was and what we are now. The first show ever done at the CFA was called ‘Quest of Excellence’ with work borrowed from all over the USA including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. That set a benchmark for the future for us to get the best that we can get.”

A recent gift of photography, with standout work from Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen, and dozens more can fill a full gallery, while the explosive multi-media color-saturated work of Beatriz Gonzalez formerly took over the main exhibit space on the second floor.

As for the current season, Sirmans breaks into an excited grin as he trumpeted the show by Miami artist Teresita Fernandez that recently ended—February, 9. Teresita Fernandez creates fantastical sculptures and installations based on the elements of water and fire. She was born in Miami, went to FIU and has made an international name for herself. “We had here 50 to 60 pieces of her work from the 1990s until now,” says Sirman. “We currently have two of her pieces in our collection. She has deep Miami roots and she’s just a dynamic, exciting artist.”

Current exhibitions include Contemporary Caribbean Art; paintings, sculptures, and photographs that have since become quintessential for the museum—including works by Terry Adkins, Romare Bearden, Kevin Beasley, Ed Clark, Leslie Hewitt, Faith Ringgold, Tschabalala Self, Xaviera Simmons, and Juana Valdes, among several others and the ongoing Sculpture Garden displaying large-scale sculptures that can be enjoyed in the open air.

The iconic 35-year-old South Florida institution continues to promote artistic expressions now in this beautiful state-of-the-art facility which is a model for sustainable museum design and progressive programming.

If you visit, www.pamm.org for information on current and upcoming exhibits and events.

Pérez Art Museum Miami: an Art Boom in the Last Two Decades

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