For more than a decade, Art Basel Miami Beach has dominated South Florida's cultural landscape. But in 2013, that dominance was challenged.
Why? Not only did the long-awaited Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) come gift-wrapped for the holidays courtesy of award-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, but also a series of powerful shows cemented the city's ties to the Caribbean. And the specter of big changes at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami threatened to disrupt a longstanding regional balance that has made art available throughout the area.
"PAMM is the landmark that now ties all of our spaces together — not only artists and galleries but art-related businesses like frame shops and others in the industry that are looking at downtown as a viable alternative," says local artist Typoe.
PAMM to MOCA: Miami's New Art Frontiers
The new, eco-friendly, $131 million museum on the bay not only impressed locals and international visitors who swarmed it last month, but was also hailed a monumental artwork that reflects Miami's maturation as a 21st-century global city. It boasts a sprawling 200,000 square feet of programmable space — 120,000 interior and 80,000 exterior — stunning displays, a world-class café, striking outdoor gardens, and public areas replete with gorgeous hanging greenery soaring 60 feet overhead.
"PAMM's opening was the defining cultural story for our city last year," says Haitian-born, Miami-based artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, whose solo exhibit "Imagined Landscapes" is slated to open at the museum this spring. He expects PAMM's community outreach programming and downtown location to attract more cultural institutions to the already-burgeoning area.
Indeed, Primary Projects launched a 5,000-square-foot space not far from PAMM during Art Basel. "One of the reasons we chose to move Primary Projects here from the Design District was the proximity to PAMM and the energy of the growing artist community already in downtown that is working together to make this a vibrant art community," says Typoe, who cofounded Primary Projects with Books IIII Bischof and Cristina Gonzalez.
Also near PAMM are Dimensions Variable, the TM Sisters' studio, Bas Fisher Invitational, Cannonball, CIFO, New World School of the Arts, and MDC Museum of Art + Design at the Freedom Tower.
"People who are excited about visiting PAMM stop by and see we each have something different to offer," Typoe explains. "We are creating a neighborhood for the arts that's unique from either the Design District or Wynwood... We are a tight-knit community, and the energy here and support from developers make a huge difference."
Of course, new museums and galleries would be meaningless without important exhibits, and 2013 was a big year for them as well. Last summer, the Bass Museum of Art presented "Eve Sussman: Rufus Corporation," featuring the artist's film, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, which earned critical raves at the 2004 Whitney Biennale. The evocative 12-minute film was based on Diego Velázquez's enigmatic Las Meninas (1656) and became the first in a series of opulent, sensory-challenging works in which the artist re-envisions masterpieces in large-scale, operatic reenactments. At the Bass, Sussman and her crew also re-edited The Rape of the Sabine Women, Sussman's masterful feature-length video-musical reinterpreting the eponymous Roman legend, as a five-part installation projected throughout separate museum galleries.
In September, MDC Museum of Art + Design followed with "Antonia Eiriz: A Painter and Her Audience," highlighting the late Cuban talent's bold, influential works that with dark humor explore abuses of power, propaganda, and human suffering.
Another late Cuban artist who was the subject of a local museum survey to end the year was Amelia Peláez del Casal (1896-1968), one of the island's most important modernist painters. "Amelia Peláez: The Craft of Modernity," which is on view at PAMM, offers a focused assessment of the artist best known for vibrant compositions that border on the abstract while capturing the well-defined nature of Havana's traditional domestic interiors.
This year should continue the trend of important shows. In March, look for the Frost Art Museum's "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art," which draws from the Smithsonian's pioneering collection of Latino art. In April, PAMM will open the colossal "Caribbean: Crossroads of the World," showcasing 150 objects in a dazzling array of media, dating from the Haitian Revolution to the present day.
"A distinguishing feature of PAMM's program of exhibitions is the way in which it thinks about Miami as a transnational context and as a Caribbean city," chief curator Tobias Ostrander explains. "Caribbean culture is not only tied to geography."
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Also in April, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) will present a major exhibit by Kenyan-born, New York-based artist Wangechi Mutu, who is known for provocative collage works, installations, and videos that blend poetic symbolism with biting sociopolitical critique to explore issues of gender, race, and war. It will be her first major museum solo.
But the biggest story of 2014 might be MOCA itself. Rumors suggest the 18-year-old, 23,000-square-foot North Miami gem might be absorbed by Miami Beach's Bass Museum of Art.
It's a story that gained traction during Art Basel when local collector Rosa de la Cruz claimed MOCA was on the verge of closing after the failure of a bond referendum for an expansion that triggered the departure of longtime museum director and curator Bonnie Clearwater.
MOCA leaders have been vague when responding to the rumors. Approached several times last week, interim director and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld offered only this written statement: "The Board has a responsibility to explore opportunities that enable our institution to better advance our mission and serve the people of greater Miami. We [have] no plans to close the museum."