Franklin Sirmans is still figuring out his way around Miami. The newly appointed director of Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) has been in town only a few short weeks. The museum announced his hiring in September, and he officially began work October 15. "It's crazy, but it's been great," the 46-year-old says.
Sirmans' path to Miami has been winding yet impressive. After a few years as an independent curator, during which he mounted the well-received 2005 exhibition "Basquiat" at the Brooklyn Museum, Sirmans landed at the Menil Collection in Houston and then moved to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
But this isn't Sirmans' first time in Miami. "I've been in and out of here during Basel for many years," he says. "That's one way to get an impression, however jaded it may be." But he adds that "having been here at other times, when it's not about Basel, that gives you a whole other impression."
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Sirmans has already dipped his feet into other parts of the Magic City's art scene too. He recently curated "The Future Was Written," an installation featuring Miami-born artist Daniel Arsham at YoungArts. Sirmans was more than happy to work with that organization: "I have much respect for the things they've already done there," he says. He was particularly excited to work with Arsham, with whom he had a "serendipitous" meeting five years ago in Maine. Though Sirmans is undoubtedly attracted to Arsham's work, the artist's "roots and past and presence here made it a real treat," Sirmans says.
In addition to curating Arsham's exhibition, Sirmans has organized another show for Art Basel, "Art on the Move," an examination of the work of Los Angeles-based artist Martine Syms, at Locust Projects. Syms produced an original performance for O, Miami in 2015. Sirmans describes the two shows as part of his entry into Miami: It's a "balance of learning about a place through the eyes of [an outsider] and an artist who is from the place."
It's that double view of Miami that Sirmans hopes to bring to PAMM. The city, he notes, is poised to lead the conversation about contemporary art. "We have this opportunity to represent this city in an incredibly dynamic space, both regionally and internationally, in the way that no other city could," he says. Sirmans counts Miami's deep ties to the Caribbean and South and Central America among the city's great strengths. PAMM, he says, is uniquely positioned to "look at Latin America and the Caribbean... It's part of being in this space, and no one can do it in a similar fashion."
More important, Sirmans wants PAMM to be both a local and international museum. "PAMM should be the central focal point for modern and contemporary art coming out of Miami. I want everyone to feel like they have a stake in this museum."