I hadn’t been to Miami for two years until my recent trip to the Magic City last week. I lived in South Florida for 14 years and it was something that I didn’t plan on living there more than 2 years. Initially, I hated Miami for approximately two solid years. I didn’t like the impending doom of every hurricane season - I was a nervous wreck between June and November. I never became as blasé about being potentially flattened by a hurricane as local Miamians. I just could not understand how people who had lived their entire lives or at least a big majority of time, not be prepared for a hurricane. You’re going to Home Depot for plywood and duct tape, now? NOW? You mean to tell me that you don’t already have these things in your garage? No? Well, why the hell not? Anyway, I was a little apprehensive about flying to Miami at this particular time, because Hurricane Florence was set to destroy the Carolina’s and most of the southeastern coast of the U.S.. What was weird was that the weather up North and upon landing in Miami, was beautiful. Blue skies and a little hotter than usual, but nevertheless, really gorgeous weather. You would have never guessed that not that far away, fellow Americans were battling hurricane force winds and flooding.
It’s well-known that Miami has had a very active street art and graffiti scene since the late 1990’s. The epicenter of this art scene is a neighborhood named, Wynwood. At the beginning of the Miami art boom, Wynwood was an under-developed warehouse area, complete with drug addicts and drug dealers, prostitutes and other sketchy individuals. It started off as an area that was more or less ok to walk about during the daylight hours, but once the sun started to set, it was time to scram. I’ve had many students who have been mugged, robbed at gunpoint or had their cars broken into. Today, Wynwood is pretty gentrified and many shops and galleries have security guards keeping a watch on things. Miami has always been a strong art gallery, but weak art museum type of town. I remember the “golden age” of Wynwood’s Art Walk, taking place on the second Saturday of every month, where galleries would stay open late for art lovers. My favorite galleries at the time were Rocket Projects, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Dorsch Gallery, Fredric Snitzer Gallery … amazing spaces to see really superb art, for free, I might add!
Miami’s art museums were not as stellar, but they did try, but it was always ‘meh’. There was the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, the Bass Museum on Miami Beach, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami campus right off US 1 … and that was about it back in the early 2000’s. I’m not counting “spaces” or “collections”, like the Goldman Warehouse or the Rubell Family Collection - although those are really stellar places to see some of the best art that Miami can offer. I’ve never had a bad time at the RFC - never, but they’re not exactly considered a ‘museum’. So when the news came that Miami was going to have a FOR REAL art museum, every art lover in Miami, lost their minds. Some people were hopeful, some skeptical and some never thought that it would ever happen. I mean, Miami DID have the Miami Art Museum (MAM), but it was tough to get to and the shows were a bit lackluster (although they did have an awesome gift shop).
The MAM morphed into the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County and they debuted during the 2013 Art Basel event. I remember the whole hullabaloo that Jorge Perez, the super-rich Cuban businessman, wanted to name the museum after himself. I mean, he DID give millions of dollars towards its existence, so I always felt that he had the right to do so. Plus, the acronym was cool, PAMM - it’s catchy and cute in that sunny Miami kind of way. The museum itself is GORGEOUS. I’ve never seen a museum quite like this - as corny as it sounds, the building really is art itself. Huge hanging columns of plants from the outdoor beams … everything is so lush! And there’s the view of Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach in the distance from the ‘front porch’ area. The museum itself is quite small if you compare it to the Art Institute of Chicago or The Met; one could easily navigate the interior in under 40 minutes, to be honest. I find myself spending just as much time in the gift shop.
Anyway, at one time, I was lucky enough to work one MetroMover stop away from the PAMM and I took full advantage of hopping over at lunchtime or after work to look at the latest show. My favorite show was Ai Wei Wei’s 2013-14 ‘According to What’ … huge exhibit with a great scope of his work. Finally! Now Miami had a world-class museum and we didn’t have to go to New York City, L.A. or Chicago to get an art fix.