Interview Museums USA

Pop goes Miami's art scene

The director of Miami Beach's Bass Museum of Art on how a Swiss art fair has helped make South Florida buzz each December

Silvia Karman Cubina. Photo: © Silvia Ros

Art Basel may not have instantly made Miami into a global art hub, as some predicted when it first landed on Florida’s shores in 2002, but the fair has been steadily driving year-round museum attendance and arts patronage—and, according to Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the executive director and chief curator of the Bass Museum of Art, filtering art into everyday life.

The Art Newspaper: When Art Basel Miami Beach came to town, some speculated that the fair would revolutionise the local art market. Were those expectations exaggerated?

Silvia Karman Cubiñà: Miami is a very young city. I think there was an expectation that in five years or even 10 years, this would become an art capital in the vein of New York and London. But it takes much longer than that. Art Basel has been fantastic in terms of creating audiences for art—for buying and selling art, for strengthening museums and for creating diverse audiences for an art ecosystem. But I think that what needs to happen takes generations. People have been asking Miami to grow up very, very fast, and I think it has grown fast, but not unrealistically so.

How has the fair had an impact on Miami’s museums in recent years?

The first thing that happened when Art Basel came to town was that the profile of local collectors grew exponentially. Miami’s lifestyle and art merged, so all of a sudden, you saw people socialising more around art events; it has become a social ecosystem. Now the people who collect a little bit have major collectors as role models, and a lot of them have begun to form museum communities and are strengthening organisations. There are more people giving smaller donations, and you’re now starting to see the results of that as museums gain strength.

In which ways are museums gaining strength?

The Pérez Art Museum Miami has constructed its new building; we are expanding our museum facility by 47% and our attendance grew 30% in the past year. It’s more complicated than me drawing a line from the fair to our attendance, but a lot of people hear about the fair, attend the event and then decide to go to museums throughout the rest of the year.

Which areas still need improvement?

It would be great to have an art school and more art press. These are things that will eventually come, as well as more galleries and artists.

During this year’s fair, the Bass Museum of Art is exhibiting work by Piotr Uklański in a show titled “ESL”. To what extent do you consider the fair when selecting the museum’s December exhibitions?

It does play a role, because, during that time, we have a very targeted audience of people who are part of the international art community. It’s not about lowering the quality throughout the rest of the year; it’s about programming exhibitions that deal more with locally relevant topics. Uklański is an artist who speaks equally to Miami and to international audiences. He named his show “ESL”, meaning “English as a second language”, which is obviously a big deal in Miami and, increasingly, in other cities. He’s talking about his experience of being a foreigner in the US, and that just happens to be the experience of a lot of people in Miami and elsewhere. It’s beautiful when things like that come together.

• “Piotr Uklański: ESL” (until 16 March 2014), Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. Opening hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 12pm-5pm. Website:

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