Show Navigation

Perez Art Museum Miami’s Curator Talks Contemporary Art, Miami Style


Life & Style

A work of art in and of itself, Miami is known the world over for its dizzying kaleidoscope of turquoise waters, white sands and emerald-green palms. For being home to sprawling Mediterranean manses, towering reflective skyscrapers and art deco masterpieces. But when it comes to contemporary art museums, the city hasn’t always enjoyed such acclaim.

All that changed in 2013, when what was formerly the Miami Art Museum (and, before that, Miami’s Center for the Fine Arts) was transformed into the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, the all-new, 200,000-square-foot building overlooking Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami’s Museum Park quickly became known as Miami’s flagship art museum.


Miami’s relevance as an international art destination is reflected in its evolution from the small, $6-million Center for the Fine Arts building that lacked even a permanent art collection into the $220-million structure that today showcases some of the world’s finest works — all displayed in a remarkably state-of-the-art, sustainable and, by all accounts, jaw-dropping space.

It is the architecture, in fact, that has been among the most celebrated, and most debated, aspects of the museum. “PAMM fills a three-story Herzog & de Meuron building that many Miami natives believe is more attractive and interesting than the art inside,” mused Forbes (although the author was quick to express his disagreement).

MTV2's "Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave" featuring David Ortiz and Fat Joe

René Morales

The ongoing examination is not unexpected. “When your audience is as non-monolithic as ours, it isn’t possible for everyone to be happy,” says Rene Morales, curator at PAMM.

Indeed, if the job of art (and architecture as art) is to inspire, to raise questions, to foster a sense of discovery and even to create tension, PAMM has more than done its job. Previews Inside Out had a chance to talk to Morales, who mused on the museum’s impact on the international art community, its cultural relevance and the symbiotic relationship created by the art and the building that houses it.

Previews Inside Out What would you say sets PAMM apart from other contemporary museums?

Rene Morales The combination of PAMM’s unique architectural facility and its location amid such a diverse and dynamic city is what makes the institution truly distinct. 

Previews Inside Out What is your overall goal when curating for the museum, and how would you say current exhibitions (Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: A Universe of Fragile Mirrors) support that goal?

Rene Morales At PAMM, we have the complex goal of representing and educating our public about established, mainstream currents in modern and contemporary art, while simultaneously offering alternative perspectives. We seek to be engaged in the geopolitical issues that most affect our city and our world, tapping into art’s potential as a system of knowledge and civic engagement while also offering a place for aesthetic enjoyment and social interaction. It’s quite a juggling act, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

110 West 80 St-4R, NY, NY 10024 212 874 3879

Basquiat, Untitled Ink Drawing, 1981

Previews Inside Out Your website references Miami’s role as “a nexus for the transnational exchange of people, resources, cultures and ideas.” How are the museum’s collection choices shaped by those factors, and how would you say those choices impact visitors?

Rene Morales The interior architectural layout of our collection galleries — not to mention our existing collection itself — is more conducive to thematic, conceptual narratives than to linear, strictly art-historical ones. For one thing, there isn’t a single set path through the museum; visitors are invited to choose among several different possible trajectories through the galleries each time they visit PAMM. So the narratives we relay tend to be less about the linear evolution of the artistic canon — the progression of artistic “isms” (cubism, expressionism, minimalism, etc.) or the greatest hits of art history — than about creating a web or network of related concepts, ones we can tailor very specifically to our particular constituency.

When we acquire works for the collection, we are always thinking about what kinds of ideas we can explore, what kind of stories we can tell and which particular ideas and stories seem relevant to our public. Another important point here is the emphasis that this institution has always placed on local artistic production. We exhibit the work of Miami-based artists often — both in the context of solo exhibitions and in thematic displays, right alongside and on equal terms with very well-known artists from all over the world.


Previews Inside Out The museum’s architecture has been the topic of extensive conversation. How did the new building transform the museum, both literally and figuratively? 

Rene Morales It has been immensely gratifying to see how the new building has been embraced by the community. The process of adapting to the larger scale has been challenging, but very exciting. With 15 gallery spaces, the building certainly keeps us busy. I think I can speak for the whole staff when I say that we all feel inspired by how the new building has made it possible for us to do so much more, to chase big dreams and big ambitions. At the same time, we’ve managed to preserve the sense of intimacy and family-like atmosphere typical of much smaller institutions.


Previews Inside Out Surely you have heard chatter focused on the idea that the most interesting part of the museum is the architecture. How would you counter that?

Rene Morales We try to use the highly subdivided nature of our interior space to offer a great diversity of artistic approaches, to create a rich texture of offerings at any given time, with the hope that everyone finds something to be engaged with — whether they follow modern and contemporary art closely or whether they are just curious; whether they are looking for a purely aesthetic experience or whether they are hungry for intellectual discourse; and everything in between these kinds of dichotomies.

There are many Miamians out there who have had great responses to our program, judging from our robust attendance figures and positive commentary on exhibitions and programs. We certainly appreciate everyone’s feedback and urge folks to keep coming back, since, for one thing, our galleries are constantly rotating; we are constantly presenting new offerings at a faster rate than most comparable museums.

Previews Inside Out How would you say the architecture complements the art, and vice versa? 

Rene Morales For the curators, the galleries continue to feel like a playground and also like a laboratory, a place where we can test out new ideas and new possibilities. This has a lot to do with the facility’s unique layout of gallery spaces and its diversity of gallery types, each one varying in terms of size and materials, and each one implying a different curatorial approach.


Previews Inside Out Can you give us insight into some of the newer exhibitions and a sneak peek at what’s coming next?

Rene Morales On September 29, we inaugurated an incredible, newly commissioned project by Sarah Oppenheimer, who is known for making complex architectural modifications to the gallery space that produce amazing perceptual effects. Two weeks later, on October 13, we debuted a new video piece by Susan Hiller, also commissioned by PAMM, which centers on the important issue of extinct and endangered languages. The work is extremely moving, both melancholic and hopeful. We expect that it will resonate strongly in Miami, a highly polylingual city where the preservation of one’s family language and culture is such a key issue for so many.

A week after that, we unveiled another video installation by the Danish artist team SUPERFLEX, which revolves around questions of citizenship, migration, economic struggle and other timely and relevant geopolitical issues. In early November, we open another commissioned work by Ulla von Brandenburg, which involves an elaborate, participatory, site-specific construction inside our dramatic double-height project gallery, with its soaring 30-foot-high ceilings, as well as a major retrospective of the work of Julio Le Parc, an important pioneer of participatory kinetic art from Argentina. 

You Just Read:

Perez Art Museum Miami’s Curator Talks Contemporary Art, Miami Style

More Life & Style Stories