Miami Art Museums

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There’s more to Miami than beaches and nightlife

The days of Miami’s ‘cocaine cowboys’ and Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas battling it out with hoodlums MTV-style in ‘Miami Vice’ are long gone, and a once drug-crazed city is slowly emerging as an internationally respected cultural centre.

Every December contemporary art fans flock to Art Basel Miami, where some of the world’s biggest blue chip galleries hawk their wares from booths in the Miami Beach Convention Center. This in turn has caused local galleries to up their game and has spawned many events throughout the city keen to tap into the influx.

Late 2017 saw the opening of a new, multi-million dollar art museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami, while an old favourite, the Bass Museum, re-emerged after undergoing an extensive transformation.

The Bass Museum with Ugo Rondione’s ‘Miami Mountain’ (2016). Photo: Zachary Balber

Built in 1930 as the Miami Beach Public Library and Arts Center, the Bass Museum is one of the oldest Art Deco buildings in Miami. The first public exhibition space for art in South Florida, the building is covered in fossilised Paleolithic coral, which adds texture and an aged hue. Specialising in contemporary art, the museum recently reopened after a $12 million transformation which increased the programmable space by almost 50 per cent, including four new galleries. The newly dedicated permanent collection gallery shows a rotating selection of works from the original Bass collection, while temporary exhibitions of international contemporary art occupy the rest of the building.
Throw in an entire neighbourhood dedicated to street art and the world’s largest concentration of Art Deco architecture, and visiting art-lovers will find plenty to occupy their time when not lounging pool-side, savouring Afro-Caribbean cuisine or enjoying the vibrant nightlife.

Designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron (Konzerthaus Munich, Royal College of Art, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, etc.) the Perez Art Museum of Miami, or PAMM, is the city’s flagship art centre. Dedicated to 20th and 21st century art of the Atlantic Rim (the Americas, Western Europe and Africa, with an emphasis on Miami-, Caribbean- and Latin America-focussed art), its dramatic location by Biscayne Bay (hence the largest hurricane-proof windows in the world) overlooks Museum Park with its public gardens and sculpture installations.

Named after a major donor and leading collector of Latin American art, the museum’s galleries are dedicated to five genres of painting – still life, historical painting, landscape, portraiture and scenes from everyday life – in both traditional and contemporary forms. There is also sculpture, video, photography and installation. Admission includes a 45-minute guided tour.

A signature feature are the museum’s hanging gardens, which drape down from roof to ground and give the facade a tropical, jungly feel in contrast to the white, angular structure. Some 40 species of trees and over 200 species of flowers and other plants attract nesting birds and butterflies. A stroll across Museum Park brings you to Jaume Plensa’s ‘Looking into my dreams, Awilda‘, a giant, elongated white head looking out over the bay.

Occupying a former warehouse in the Mediterranean Revival style, where “snowbirds” (northern retirees who wintered in Florida) stored their possessions, The Wolfsonian museum presents ‘the story of the human condition told through man-made objects’ through a fascinating collection from the modern era (1885-1945), primarily of North American and European origin. Named after founder Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr., a Miami Beach native and collector (“What man makes, makes man”), its collection of over 180,000 artefacts includes furniture, household appliances, industrial design objects, glass, ceramics, metalwork, paintings, books and periodicals. The most represented nations are the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union/Russia.

Jean Dunand (Swiss, 1877-1942), ‘La Chasse’, c.l935, gold leaf, paint & plaster. The panels were originally a feature of the French passenger liner ‘SS Normandie’. (The Wolfsonian)

Recent exhibition themes have included the use of American Indian imagery to promote US national parks, how early 19th century tobacco companies advertised their products through association with tropical landscapes and ethnic peoples and the role of commerial art in the modern city, as seen through the work of the Austrian designer Julius Klinger (1876-1942), who died with his wife in a Nazi death camp.

Allison Zuckerman, ‘A Creation in the Earthly Garden’ (Rubell Family Collection)

One of the world’s largest, privately owned, publicly accessible contemporary art collections, the Rubell Family Collection is housed in a 45,000 square foot former Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated goods facility. Constantly expanding, the collection features work by well known artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman as well as championing emerging artists. There are yearly thematic exhibitions drawn from the collection, which often travel to museums around the world, such as San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, the San Antonio Museum of Art and Madrid’s Fundación Santander.

Opened in December 2017 to coincide with Miami Art Week (which includes the Art Basel Miami and Design Miami fairs), the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami is now permanently homed in the Miami Design District, an 18-square block area which has emerged after decades of decay to become a hotbed of galleries, museums, luxury boutiques, artist lofts, media companies and restaurants. The new building, by Madrid-based Aranguren + Gallegos Architectos, is itself a work of art. Behind a metallic facade acting as a metaphorical ‘magnet’ for visitors, three double-height levels each overlook a sculpture garden. In keeping with its community focus, the museum operates a free admission policy.

Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami

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HOW TO GET THERE Ireland’s only four-star airline Aer Lingus serves Miami via Dublin for Scottish travellers departing from Edinburgh or Glasgow. You can pre-clear US immigration in Dublin, avoiding any lengthy delays Stateside. Fares from £219 each-way, incl. taxes and charges when booked as a return trip. Business class fares from £899 each way, incl. taxes and charges


A short block from the ocean, the Philippe Starck-designed Delano South Beach is a luxury
boutique hotel which offers fine dining, poolside luxury and a roof-top wellness centre. Its Collins Avenue location provides easy access to local shopping, restaurants and nightlife.

Downtown, the SLS Brickell, also designed by Philippe Starck, has many playful design features and a spectacular, roof-top pool supervised by a giant, synthetic duck. The nearby MetroMover station provides
free transportation to all local attractions.






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