Museums, institutions that preserve and produce culture, walk a tightrope of accessibility and excellence. They seek to attract a steady and wide-reaching audience while presenting compelling artwork that's relevant to a broader conversation on art and its trends. Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the largest fine-art exhibitions in the world, only heightens the pressure on local museums to be both cutting-edge and marketable, as hundreds of tourists pour into town to view, judge, and buy art.
Miami turns into something of a circus during Art Basel. Some museum events cater to the exclusive and prestigious side of an international audience well-versed in contemporary creation. But other happenings attempt to bridge the gap between what might seem elite and the everyday, colloquial art lovers and their families. The tide seems to be turning toward the latter this year, as more Miami Art Week events become reasonable for a broader audience to attend.
One event that has traditionally remained free and open to the public is the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum's Breakfast in the Park. Guests can enjoy complimentary food and tours of the museum and the sculpture garden, as well as a lecture from guest artist Daniel Joseph Martinez. The L.A.-based sculptor has represented the United States at biennials around the globe. 9:30 a.m. Sunday, December 10, at the Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; frost.fiu.edu.
At FIU's other art museum, right in the middle of the action in South Beach, the balance is more delicate. The Wolfsonian's official Art Basel VIP party is open solely to Diplomat-level museum members and VIP convention card-holders and will present Seite Zwei's transformation of the museum's lobby and façade. Emanuele Timothy Costa will be in attendance to take portraits of attendees. Though the Italian artist will spend the night snapping shots of gentile guests, his Thousand People Project will take him to the stainless-steel Bridge Tender House on the museum's sidewalk Monday through Thursday. The project involves the subjects of Costa's portraits telling stories of their lives, to be archived along with 5,000 others from all over the world. 8 p.m. Friday, December 8, at the Wolfsonian-FIU, 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-535-2622; wolfsonian.org.
Though not directly affiliated with the city's largest cultural event, the Phillip & Patricia Frost Museum of Science is nevertheless involved in this year's events by way of the Knight Arts Challenge's tenth anniversary. The Knight Foundation has given more than $100 million to the arts in Miami over the past 12 years, and the Knight Arts Challenge has funded what are now major players in the cultural production of the city. To celebrate the past decade, both the Frost Museum of Science and Pérez Art Museum Miami will be open to the public, and a deluge of dance and music performances, literary pop-ups, and other diversions will flood the plaza between the museums. The kickoff to Miami Art Week champions not only the diversity of Miami's offerings but also the accessibility to the arts that's necessary to foster a community of art-makers and appreciators. 7 p.m. Monday, December 4, in Museum Plaza, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; knightfoundation.org/10.
Whether by careful planning or serendipity, the anniversary party won't be the only instance Pérez Art Museum Miami will be accessible without an admission fee during the Basel frenzy. The museum's programs Free First Thursdays and Free Second Saturdays fall within the Miami Art Week window, December 7 and 9, respectively. As one of the larger cultural institutions in town, the museum caters to the influx of moneyed visitors via PAMM Presents, a swanky outdoor party with live music and drinks. Elizabet Cerviño, a contemporary Cuban artist, will present spontaneous pop-up performances throughout the week as part of the museum's exhibition "On the Horizon." PAMM Presents begins at 9 p.m. Thursday, December 7, at Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-375-3000; pamm.org.
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Of all these offerings, the most pointed attempt to make fine art accessible, even outside Miami Art Week, goes to the Bass, which reopened its doors in October after a lengthy renovation. As a draw for fresh blood, a new exhibition of work by Mika Rottenberg will open with a reception available to museum members. However, an initiative offers free membership to Miami Beach residents and City of Miami Beach employees. A typical museum membership starts at $50, but those eligible can register now through January 15 for their claim to free art, and the sooner the better: Membership includes access to the reception. 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 6, at the Bass, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; thebass.org.
Art Week will bring new work to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami too, with an exhibition by Swedish artist Jacob Felländer. The photographer is making his U.S. debut with a blend of installation, 3D printing, and virtual reality meant to invoke alternate dimensions. The opening reception is free for MOCA members, North Miami residents, and Art Basel VIPs; tickets for the general public cost $30. 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 6, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org.
Finally, the Lowe Art Museum will host its annual Bubbles & Brunch, which will include a lecture by exhibiting artist Michele Oka Doner and costs only the price of museum admission, which is $12.50 for adults and children aged 12 or older and $8 for students and seniors; children under the age of 12 get in free. Bubbles & Brunch begins at 10 a.m. Sunday, December 10, at the Lowe, 1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-4545; lowemuseum.org.