A museum for all seasons?
Miami’s new institution aims to become a year-round cultural destination
By Georgina Adam. From Art Basel Miami Beach daily edition
Published online: 04 December 2013
The most eagerly anticipated event of the season in Miami Beach, and indeed in Florida, is the inauguration of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which today throws open the doors of its impressive new $131m Herzog and de Meuron-designed building.
The museum is so eagerly awaited because it potentially adds a new and powerful cultural voice to the region, which lacks the infrastructure of the traditional centres of New York, Paris and London. Miami does not have the artists, art schools, art-oriented universities, commercial gallery sector or visitor numbers of the major centres. The “old” Miami Art Museum attracted just 54,295 visitors in 2012, according to The Art Newspaper’s annual survey of museum attendance—a weak showing in a metropolitan area with a population of five million people.
What Miami does have is a group of prominent local collectors with their own private spaces, such as the Rubells, the Margulies, the Scholls and the De la Cruzes. Indeed, the very existence of the museum comes down to the collector Jorge Pérez, whose gift of $40m in cash and art led to the renaming of the institution. The local property developer Craig Robins has already pledged 102 works of art to the museum, which is actively supported by the Miami-Dade authorities, who are keen to “rebrand” Miami as a cultural destination.
The institution is part of a growing phenomenon: museums being built in centres where the existing art ecosystem is based around an art fair, a group of local private collectors or even the political will of a ruler, rather than a more traditional cultural landscape that has evolved over time.
Hong Kong, for instance, had few cultural offerings until the arrival of the art fair that is now part of the Art Basel stable. Now it is building the ambitious M+ museum, kickstarted by a gift of around 1,500 works from Uli Sigg, the Swiss collector of Chinese art. In Abu Dhabi, the Emirati authorities are conjuring three major museums out of the desert sands, while in Azerbaijan, an extravagant Zaha Hadid-designed cultural centre, funded by the presidential family, is already functioning as an art gallery.
Such institutions carry a major responsibility for setting the artistic agenda in their communities. Through the artists they choose to show, the acquisitions they make, the advice they give to trustees, and their public education programmes, they become the taste-makers for the whole region—and far beyond.
Among the dealers at Art Basel Miami Beach, which opens to VIPs today, the inauguration of the Pérez museum is seen by Thaddaeus Ropac (C11) as a “catalyst” for the art-oriented community—even among the “snow birds” not based in Miami full-time. And Ropac sees the museum as lessening the influence of the art fairs in the region. “Because Miami Beach has such a major influx in December, when the whole art world comes here, the result was that contemporary artists only wanted to exhibit here at that time. It was quite tragic,” he says. José Kuri of Kurimanzutto (G4) says: “There were the components, with the art fair and collectors, but it is important to have this institution to raise the level.”
The relationship between art fairs and museums is symbiotic. Nick Olney of Paul Kasmin Gallery (A5) says that the museums provide context for the artists who are shown at the fair, as well as giving them important curatorial endorsement. “When you compare the Miami Beach of ten years ago with today, there has been an immense change,” says Urs Meile (A17). “Of course the art fair helped a lot, but [the Pérez museum] is an important new step in the cultural infrastructure.” The fairs support museums financially, through their benefit previews and VIP programmes.
Richard Arregui of Fredric Snitzer Gallery (B26), who was born and brought up in Miami Beach, is hopeful but cautious. “The museum is another stepping stone in the cultural offering, but it’s not going to happen like this,” he says, snapping his fingers. “It is still charting its way; it has tricky waters to navigate and must be patient. Not everyone here is involved with the language of art.”
The rivalries within the city don’t help. The renaming of the museum was controversial, and as another dealer says: “Sadly, co-operation between the private collectors here is an issue. It would be so much better if they could get together, but I fear it won’t happen.”
The challenge for the museum will be to build audiences and establish a critical reputation. Tim Marlow of White Cube (L9) says: “The stakes are high, and it has to make a curatorial statement. Ai Weiwei [whose show at the museum opens today] is certainly a name that is well known in the US and does enable the institution to reach out to a broader audience. Still, I hope it will be able to focus more on Latin American artists as it evolves.”
“Don’t forget that Florida is a young state, incorporated just over 100 years ago,” Arregui says. “The local cultural community is still growing, and remember, the big competition here also comes from the sun, the sea, the yachts. But as the programmes become more sophisticated, those audiences will hopefully grow as well.”
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