Unlike most metropolitan cultural centers, with long-established institutions and histories, Miami-Dade is an ever-transitioning city, and until the last few decades, one without much of a cultural groundwork. But with a spurt of growth in almost all arts genres, the days of second-cast companies performing retreaded work are past. The touring companies that do land here — such as the Cleveland Orchestra, which makes an annual appearance — are world renowned. More often, South Florida audiences are sampling some of the most diverse homegrown experiences offered anywhere in the country.
Since the arrival of Art Basel, the visual arts have powered the region’s cultural explosion and thrust it into the international spotlight. Contemporary museums, art institutions, private family collections and innovative galleries have helped fueled the surge.
“Visual-art production is uniquely 305,” says Dennis Scholl, collector, filmmaker and newly installed president and CEO of ArtCenter/South Florida, which supports and promotes local artists. “First, the private collections of world-class contemporary art that are made available to the public in Miami exist like no other place on earth. And it is a cornucopia of the best, freshest cutting-edge art one can hope to see.”
In just the past few years, Miami has opened a spate of new museums. This year, the Miami Dade College Museum of Art + Design opened refashioned galleries in the Freedom Tower; last year brought the launch of the privately funded Institute of Contemporary Arts – Miami’s Design District museum and the reopening of the renovated Bass museum on Miami Beach. New directors have come on board at North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum and the Frost Museum-FIU. And just five years ago, the Perez Art Museum Miami opened its signature Herzog & de Meuron-designed home; since then it has hosted close to 1.6 million visitors.
Public institutions have built on a foundation created by some of the world’s most highly rated private collectors who — unlike in other cities — open exhibitions to the public. That has enabled locals and visitors alike to see a vast array of extraordinary works, including rare paintings by Donald Judd (Institute of Contemporary Art-Miami), a massive show of sculptures by contemporary German master Anselm Kiefer (Margulies Collection at the Warehouse), works by Mark Bradford, Félix González-Torres and Alex Katz (de la Cruz Collection) and a disturbing exploration of humanity in the Artificial Intelligence era (Rubell Family Collection).
And of course there are the contemporary museums and art spaces, which tend to be the focal point for locals and tourists alike. They include artist-founded Locust Projects, MOCA in North Miami, the newly renovated Bass in South Beach and the jewel on the bay, the Perez Art Museum Miami — all of which feature local artists throughout the year.
This summer and fall, for instance, artgoers can explore works by Karen Rifas (at The Bass), collaborators Geddes Levenson and Annie Blazejack (at The Deering Estate), William Cordova and Lynn Golob Gelfman (at the Perez Art Museum Miami), Sebastian Spreng and Sheila Elias (at the Lowe Museum of Art), Mira Lehr (at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami) and Jill Peters (at Unscripted Bal Harbour). The Frost Art Museum-FIU is showing 12 local artists in “Deconstruction: A Reordering of Life, Politics and Art” through Sept. 30, while Locust Projects has just concluded a fast-paced rotating show of 20 local artists in 20 hours.
Perez Art Museum Miami will take a look back at the 1983 “Surrounded Islands” project by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Courtesy of Perez Art Museum Miami
Also coming up at PAMM will be a look back at the ground-breaking public art of Christo and Jeane-Claude, international artists whose 1983 installation swathing Biscayne Bay islands with pink fabric graced international magazine covers. “Only in Miami, and only at PAMM, can you see and hear the international art star Christo,” says PAMM director Franklin Sirmans. “You can learn about the symbolic beginning of contemporary art in Miami as we commemorate ‘Surrounded Islands’ in its 35th anniversary year.” The anniversary coincides with the founding of PAMM’s predecessor, the Center for Fine Arts.
Endemic to MIami’s art scene are themes that have taken on global importance: immigration and climate change. Works responding to immigration, assimilation and diaspora are part of nearly every local exhibition. Increasingly, so are works relating to ecology. Artists in Residence in Everglades, known as AIRIE, has invited artists from around the world to explore the unique Everglades ecosystem. Several local artists have developed practices relating to our endangered environment, including Xavier Cortada, who has focused his science-based work on such issues as the endangered mangroves and coral reefs. The art-science collective Coral Morphologic also emphasizes the ailing reefs in images and huge projections, for example the colorful swirling coral video that was shown on the giant outdoor screen at New World Center.
In a city where real estate values continue to rocket, studio space is a at a premium. That’s where low-cost spaces in Little Haiti’s Fountainhead and Wynwood’s Bakehouse come in. Leading the way since its 1980s creation has been ArtCenter/South Florida; it recently spread its wings with residencies that extend beyond its South Beach digs, works displayed in Walgreens’ windows, and just this year a new grant program called the Ellies, awarding an astounding $500,000 to local artists.