Interview Fairs Museums USA

Pérez Art Museum Miami’s big day—at last

After years of planning and delays, the museum finally opens today. Its director, Thomas Collins, tells us what’s in store

The director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Thomas Collins

The Pérez Art Museum Miami opens its new Herzog & de Meuron-designed 200,000 sq. ft bayfront home today, after more than a decade of planning, fundraising and construction delays. Many doubted this day would come (in 2010, the collector Marty Margulies told the Miami New Times: “It’ll never happen”). But with the help of a $100m bond from the city in 2004 and an additional $97.5m in combined gifts (finalised last month), the museum has raised nearly $200m towards its $220m goal. Its director, Thomas Collins, told us how the museum will make the most of its new space.

The Art Newspaper: What makes this building unique?

Thomas Collins: The elevated deck is an outdoor public gathering space, which is rare in Miami. The hanging gardens help to make the air ten to 12 degrees cooler than the rest of the air outside. The architects also approached the gallery spaces in a non-traditional way. There are differently scaled galleries that interlock, which means that one can chart multiple paths through the space.

What was the biggest challenge?

The cost of legal fees alone—for permitting and land use—has been the biggest surprise. We think about materials and construction, but not how fast routine legal fees will add up.

What is the relationship between the museum and Miami’s private collectors?

This institution was founded as a kunsthalle. The catalyst for developing the collection in the 1990s was the evolution of Miami’s strong private collections. Patrons like [the real-estate developer and trustee] Jorge Pérez are continually buying, in dialogue with the curatorial staff. When we think about acquisitions, we ask: “Do we need to buy one of these if there are already three in private collections?”

How are you developing the collection and how will it be shown in the new building?

Since we broke ground, we’ve added at least 500 objects, the majority of which were gifts. We can’t buy everything we think is great, but we can build a unique collection. Over the next two years, we will present thematic exhibitions exploring the relationship between post-war cultural production in North, Central and South America. We want our audience to feel as though they can see themselves and communities they know.

In September, the museum launched a $1m African-American acquisitions fund. Why?

Art of the African diaspora was a weakness for us, especially considering that African-Americans are the second largest population in Miami. The immediate impetus for the fund came from Jorge Pérez. He turned to me at the opening of our Rashid Johnson show [“Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks”, 2012] and said: “How are we doing collecting work by African-American artists? I would like to support that goal.” He offered to make the first gift of $500,000, and then approached the Knight Foundation to match his contribution.

The decision to give Perez naming rights to the museum, in exchange for a $40m donation of cash and art, was controversial. You lost two trustees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Has there been any further fallout?

Naming rights are neither unusual for Miami nor unusual to North American art institutions. They have been given to people who donated founding collections, who made large cash donations or who exercised civic leadership. Jorge Pérez has done all three of those things. He has also brought in other donors, so, on balance, it has been a very positive thing.

The Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami (in Museum Park), opens today. Opening exhibitions: Ai Weiwei, “According to What?” (until 16 March 2014), and Amelia Peláez, “The Craft of Modernity” (until 23 February 2014). Opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday: 10am-6pm; Thursday: 10am-4pm; Saturday: 10am-3pm.

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