This is the contemporary art museum of the city. The Pérez Art Museum Miami, better known as PAMM, opened its doors in 2013. The building was designed by the Herzog and de Meuron agency of Switzerland and is the architectural jewel of Museum Park, Miami’s new cultural spot. A conceptual guided tour.
Miami is becoming one of the highest profile art destinations in the world. But almost all that status comes from the attention it receives during just one week of the year: Art Week. More than 100,000 art spectators descend on Miami every winter to attend the two major Downtown art fairs, Art Miami and Art Basel Miami, as well as more than a dozen smaller satellite fairs that operate concurrently all around the city. But when Art Week ends, the art world all but turns a blind eye toward South Florida as the collectors, dealers, art stars and art media disappear in search of the next big fair or exhibition.
Happily, that is starting to change as dedicated Miamians are focusing more on what is needed in order to make their city an important art destination year round. So what, you ask, is the number one thing Miami is lacking that cities like Paris, New York, Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong are not? The answer is museums.
But wait, you might say. Miami has several wonderful museums and private collections that are open to the public. And that is definitely true. However, there is no Miami equivalent to MoMA, the Tate, the Louvre, the Met, or even LACMA. And that is a serious problem for a city hoping to compete with the biggest players in the international art world.
But that is not to say there are not passionate, serious people working hard to change things in Miami. One institution in particular has made significant strides in recent years to brand itself as the Miami art museum of the future.
The Pérez Art Museum of Miami, better known as PAMM, opened in 2013. Its gleaming, futuristic structure is the crowning architectural gem of Museum Park, the newest cultural draw in Downtown Miami. Everything about PAMM is inviting. Its multi-story facade topped with a wood and concrete lattice breathes with lush, floral columns. Beneath it, a sweeping pedestrian promenade faces out to the crystalline, blue waters of Biscayne Bay. Palm trees and other tropical flora envelop the environment, calling epitomizing the symbiotic relationship Miami boasts between its built and natural worlds. The extended canopy responds to the Miami weather by helping maintain a cooler interior for the building. And the heightened pedestrian walkways and porches presage the rising sea levels threatening so many other local landmarks.
PAMM was designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron, the same firm responsible for designing the Tate Modern in 2000, expanding the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2005, and for expanding the Tate Modern in 2016. The firm has also designed nearly a dozen other art spaces around the world, and the founders of the company cite the theories of conceptual art pioneer Joseph Beuys as a primary influence on their aesthetic process. The job they did on PAMM so impressed the film and photography team they worked with that they voluntarily, spontaneously created a devotional film about the building. That film was featured in Architect Magazine in 2015. When interviewed for the piece, photographer Robin Hill said about the film, “It’s a gift to PAMM…a great building as opposed to just a good building.”
Room to Grow
In addition to its eye catching and sustainable outer shell, what amazes many the first time they come to PAMM is the sheer size of the interior. The building boasts more than 200,000 square feet of usable space. For an idea of just how big that is, another renowned Miami art collection, the Rubell Family Collection, has, since 1993, been displayed in a 45,000-square-foot space. Next year, it is moving to a new space that will be double that size. But that is still not even half the size of PAMM. In fact, PAMM is so large that its size has become somewhat of a critical talking point for some. That is because currently, the museum does not have much of a permanent collection. People ask why have so much space for so little art? And indeed it is true that without a large permanent collection any museum will have a difficult time achieving any kind of global relevance.
But in the minds of those who are dedicated to the future of the museum, that only means PAMM has ample room to grow. Several initiatives are currently underway to grow the permanent collection, and prominent local collectors have donated generously from their personal collections. Miami real estate developer Craig Robins and his wife Jackie Soffer donated 102 works from their collection in 2013, and in 2016 donated 100 pieces more. There have also been recent acquisitions using donations of funds from prominent locals like Jorge M. Pérez, as well as from influential national donors such as JPMorgan Chase & Co and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. What many critics fail to recognize is that the museum did not even begin acquiring a permanent collection until 1996, and it was the need for expanded gallery, storage and conservation space for that growing collection that originally necessitated the search for a new building.
Spacious and full of light
An expanding future was something Herzog and de Meuron had firmly in mind when they designed the interior of the museum. Their innovative interior design allows for functional changes to be made easily, so future administrators can transform the exhibition spaces in a multitude of ways. It even allows for the possibility in the future of adding an additional 25,000 square feet of exhibition space should the need arise. But for now, the interior feels open, spacious and full of light. The main galleries are massive and flowing. The pathway between them is intuitive and inviting, with airy spaces in between that feature rotating selections from the permanent collection. The ceilings feature rows of concrete beams and tubular lighting fixtures that bring to mind a collaborative marriage of the work of Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. In the upper floors of the museum, several galleries feature towering windows that, in addition to bringing the outside light in, serve as additional reminders of the pristine natural environment surrounding this special place.
Another key feature to the interior presence of PAMM are the massive public areas, which seem to beckon for monumental installations. Although the architecture of these areas is potentially a force to be reckoned with by artists wishing to create something in situ, the potential for extraordinary things to happen is undeniable. And what is also notable about the design of PAMM is that it embraces the universe of other social interactions that revolve around art, such as sharing meals and life events, the lure of creative commerce, the need for performances and lectures, the importance of educational opportunities, and the daily reality of administrative work. Rather than hiding these functions behind walls, the open architectural plan makes them an inclusive part of the visual environment. The cafe, shops, auditoriums and offices are integrated seamlessly into the design so that no visitor can be unaware that the art in the building is part of a larger ecosystem of cultural connectivity. In short, the public spaces both inside and outside make PAMM feel like a democratic and truly public space.
A Museum by Any Other Name
Of course, despite all the joy and grandeur that has accompanied the creation of PAMM, there have been controversies along the way. Most complaints boil down to one thing: the name. PAMM was not always known as PAMM. The institution was originally founded in 1984, as Center for the Fine Arts. Back then it was located in a small, Spanish-style building Downtown. It was not a collecting institution, but rather a space to host traveling exhibitions initiated by other institutions. After a decade, it became clear that the institution needed to expand. So in 1996, it became the Miami Art Museum (MAM). Overall, that change was seen as an improvement, but visitor numbers were still low, around 60,000 per year. (For perspective, MoMA in New York averages around three million visitors per year.)
But fortunes changed again for the museum in 2010, when ground broke on a project intended to transform Bicentennial Park, a 30-acre stretch of urban parkland that opened in Miami in 1976. The new, renovated facility was to be called Museum Park, and it was slated to be the future home of both the Miami Art Museum and the Frost Museum of Science, as well as the permanently docked Miami Science Barge. And indeed, all of those things came to pass. Expect one part. During the fundraising drive for the new Miami Art Museum, the name changed to The Pérez Art Museum of Miami.
That change was spurred by the donation of $35 million from Miami art collector Jorge M. Pérez. And while there is nothing unusual about an art institution adopting the name of a major donor, the concept for the new Miami Art Museum was that the building would be a public-private partnership. The public did come through, contributing more than $100,000 to the project. Numerous private donors ponied up the rest. But when Pérez made his donation, it was accompanied by a clause that the museum be named after him in perpetuity. When that clause was accepted, several board members resigned in protest. But despite this controversy, PAMM has become a gem of the Miami architectural scene, and it has earned a position as one of the foremost art institutions in the city. And if anyone needs any further proof of its success, consider the attendance numbers, which have increased by a factor of ten over those of the old MAM, to more than half a million visitors per year.
Pérez Art Museum Miami. 1103 Biscayne Boulevard. Miami, Florida, USA. www.pamm.org
During Miami Art Week 2017, The Pérez Art Museum of Miami (PAMM) presents an extraordinary video installation by British filmmaker Steve McQueen titled End Credits. McQueen has excelled in both the commercial realm and that of the fine arts. Commercially, movie fans know him as the director of 12 years a Slave (2012), which won three Academy Awards including Best Picture, the first time that honor was given to a black filmmaker. And in the realm of Fine Art, McQueen was the recipient of the 1999 Turner Prize, awarded each year in London and considered one of the most prestigious, high profile art awards in the world. Steve McQueen: End Credits spotlights the invasive and destructive nature of political persecution. The installation uses as its source materials recently declassified files the FBI kept on African American entertainer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898 – 1976) in the 1950s. What brought Robeson to the attention of the FBI was his public advocacy against imperialism, a stance he adopted in the late 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. Later, in the decades after the end of World War II, American politicians went on a public campaign to root out communist sympathizers, a campaign led by a Republican Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy. Like many entertainers at the time, Robeson was actively involved in left wing politics. As a result he was thoroughly investigated by the FBI, and subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood by McCarthy. Robeson did not back down, however, remaining active in the fight for liberal policies and civil rights in the United States until he died. But along the way, the FBI accumulated mountains of surveillance on him, including documents, photographs, audio recordings and films. Those objects come to life in this exhibition as McQueen examines them from a contemporary aesthetic perspective, shedding new light on the corruption inherent in power, and the destructive potential of institutional discrimination.
“Steve McQueen: End Credits” was curated by María Elena Ortiz and funded with support from Bank of America and the Knight Foundation, and runs through 11 March 2018.