When in Miami: Visit the Perez Art Museum

The art museum along Biscayne Bay you cannot miss

••• The Pérez Art Museum was designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. Marianne Abbott

With the development of the Wynwood Arts District in Downtown Miami and Miami Beach hosting the annual Art Basel fair, Miami has established itself as a vibrant international art capital. Last year, Art Basel Miami hosted galleries from 32 countries and attracted 77,000 visitors from around the world.

And yet Art Basel only takes place five days out of the year.

Sitting on the banks of Biscayne Bay in Downtown Miami, a short drive from both Wynwood and Miami Beach, is the Pérez Art Museum Miami, an institution providing Miami residents and visitors their art fix year round.

Unlike the aforementioned international institutions, the Pérez Art Museum is a homegrown institution that strives to serve the local community and reflect its diversity.

Previously known as The Center For The Fine Arts, the museum, which was established in 1984, was relocated to its current location in Museum Park and renamed after Jorge M. Pérez, a long time benefactor, in 2013. While the building is the design of a prestigious Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the row of palm trees lining its exterior and its location right next to the water give off quintessential Miami vibes.

I visited the Pérez Art Museum on a Friday afternoon. Walking into a gallery on the first floor I was greeted by a group of high schoolers on a field trip.

“We have kids from local schools visit the museum almost every day,” explained Alexa Ferra, the museum’s associate director of marketing and communications, her statement echoing the institution’s mission to serve the city’s residents.

A curatorial commitment to inclusivity is clearly displayed along the museum’s walls, and yet as Ferra emphasizes, this is not a recent initiative. “Ever since the museum was founded in 1984, its mission has been to exhibit the work of local artists.”

While the museum is not explicitly an institution for Latin American art, its mission to represent Miami’s diversity and exhibit artists with significant connections to the city’s local communities has resulted in one of the most extensive exhibitions of Latin American art I have ever seen.

In a city that for decades has served as a gateway from one culture to the next, art that explores cultural identities carries particular weight. With the inclusion of artists such as Carlos Motta, who constructs a history of homosexuality in Latin America with his multimedia project Histories for the Future, and Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, whose video series A Universe of Fragile Mirrors captures post-colonial ironies in the Caribbean, PAMM has carved a space for the exploration of marginalized identities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

When I visited the museum this past September, the main exhibition was “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” organized by the Brooklyn Museum. Pieces from private collectors, including collaborations between Basquiat and Andy Warhol, were also on view alongside the notebooks. Watching Basquiat’s youthful and cool energy in a projected excerpt from Tamra Davis’ documentary on the artist, I couldn’t help but think about the high school kids I encountered on the first floor. I found Basquiat’s energy and defiance to be contagious, his uneasiness relatable, and I think the young Miami residents I ran into downstairs must have felt the same way.

“This has been one of the museum’s most popular exhibits up to date,” expressed Ferra and I’ll take her word for it.

A comprehensive look at Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, an artist who defied societal conventions, undoubtedly reflects the spirit of the Pérez Art Museum.