With a new Herzog and de Meuron-designed building and a new name, the Pérez Art Museum Miami hopes to make that tropical city a center of the art world. Formerly known as the Miami Art Museum, the institution will be re-named in collector and museum benefactor Jorge M. Pérez’s honor when it reopens in December.
Ever since Art Basel Miami Beach set up shop in 2002, the eyes of the art world turn to the city every December. “For one week, Miami becomes the most exciting place for art on earth,” Pérez said in a recent interview with A.i.A. Last year, ABMB brought more than 250 galleries, numerous satellite fairs and 50,000 attendees to Miami, temporarily transforming the city from an art-world bit player to a star.
The challenge Miami faces is to shift the beach-focused mentality of year-round visitors. “We don’t want to be ‘sun and fun’ any more,” Pérez says. If Miami can make a transition to “art and smart,” he speculates, “We have the chance to be the cultural capital of the Americas.”
To ride the wave of international interest, the museum, assisted by a gift of $40 million in cash and art from billionaire Pérez, chairman and CEO of the Florida real-estate developers the Related Group, is moving to a glitzy new home on Biscayne Bay. The grand opening coincides with—what else?—ABMB 2013.
Founded in 1996, the museum is known for holdings in modern and contemporary art from the Atlantic rim, with a concentration on Latin American art. When the new name was announced in 2011, some board members objected, especially since the city had dedicated a $100-million bond-more than twice Pérez’s gift-to construction costs. Four of them resigned in protest, but the museum stuck to the deal.
In any event, the new name may not have discouraged ongoing donations. Museum director Thom Collins has announced that an anonymous donor has given the institution $12 million in cash and more than $3 million in art, as reported in the Miami Herald.
The museum’s current building, designed by Philip Johnson in 1982 as a postmodern Mediterranean bunker with a sun-baked piazza in front, is off-putting. Isolated by an enclosed arcade, it is located in a decaying part of downtown. Exchanging this stockade for a $131-million glass-and-concrete waterfront pavilion festooned with greenery should be transformational. “With our new location we could become a cultural hub,” Collins told A.i.A. during an April tour of the construction site.
The 200,000-square-foot, three-story PAMM will have three times the programmable space. Pérez, a long-time trustee, described the search for an architect, during which the board considered renowned architects like Santiago Calatrava, Rafael Moneo, Rem Koolhaas, David Chipperfield, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano. What cemented Herzog and de Meuron’s selection was “their artistic affinity” for the site, Pérez said. “Everybody was blown away by how the design responds to local light and water, the two most important things in Miami.”
Inspired by some vernacular housing on Biscayne Bay known as Stiltsville-wood houses that are raised on stilts above shallow water-the building is elevated, and features a large wraparound deck and a huge, overhanging roof. The design “solves a lot of our problems,” Collins says, since the shaded, raised platform protects against tidal flows and provides a comfortable gathering place.
With its exterior columns washed by light at night and hanging gardens stuffed with verdant flora and twinkling lights, the building should appear both classic and at home in its context. What it deliberately is not is a Frank Gehry blob. “The board didn’t want a sculpture; they wanted a functional building,” Collins said, adding, “But I think it’ll end up being iconic.” Including a 29-acre landscaped park, the site is the city’s last significant undeveloped green space on the water.
Before closing up June 2 to prepare for the move, MAM is showing its last exhibition, “Frames of Reference: Latin American Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” featuring 43 of the 110 works donated by Pérez. The exhibition includes works from the places Pérez lived and worked (Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico) by midcentury masters like Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Beatriz González, Roberto Matta, Wilfredo Lam and Rufino Tamayo. Contemporary artists who’ve made it big on the global stage like Guillermo Kuitca and José Bedia are also present.
Many of the works, like the museum itself, are on the cusp between old and new, featuring “that moment of transition from a European language to a uniquely Latin American language,” as chief curator Tobias Ostrander said during a tour of the show.
This hybridity characterizes the changing face of American society. “Every U.S. institution is doing Latin American exhibitions and building Latin American collections because they realize the way the demographics are moving,” Ostrander says. Since Miami-Dade County is already 65% Hispanic, according to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau figures, it’s at the forefront of the trend.
“There’s a lot of interest in what we’re doing because we’re potentially developing models,” Ostrander says, for a version of art history where Latin American art is not marginalized or exoticized, but in dialogue with the conventional canon. Collins calls the thematic, idea-driven installation of the new galleries (rather than being organized by geography or chronology) “a more poly-vocal approach to storytelling, which is perfect for this community.”
Hoping to be in the primera vanguardia, as Cuban artists like Wilfredo Lam and Amelia Peláez were called, in translating modernist styles into indigenous forms, the new PAMM aims to be a “catalyst,” Pérez says, for local youth to take pride in their Latin American heritage and maintain knowledge of their roots.
Rare among one-percenters, the condo king Pérez describes himself as having been “a far-left liberal, socialist type” in his youth. He retains altruistic tendencies and has signed the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge to dedicate his wealth to charity. Pérez pushes the museum to “be an incubator” that promotes unknown, local artists and “never loses the guts to show controversial art.”