Perez Art Museum Miami’s new exhibits will reflect Miami

A major exhibition from famed Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. New shows highlighting key Cuban, Haitian and Brazilian artists. Projects by artists from Israel, Eastern Europe and the Middle East that explore migration and confrontation with authoritarianism.

After months of contentious discussion about its funding, its location and its name, the Perez Art Museum Miami is announcing the art that will fill the three-story museum in Bicentennial Park when it opens in late 2013. From overviews of art in the Americas to a miniature flotilla evoking Miami’s stream of sea-born migration, PAMM’s directors aim to simultaneously set the museum apart internationally and appeal to its home city with programming that makes a strong connection to Miami.

“You see a lot of U.S. museums with very similar programs, where you could be in Ohio or San Francisco,” says PAMM chief curator Tobias Ostrander. “We have to speak from a place and channel the specifics of that place. This is about showing the most cutting-edge art, the best quality of work that we can, but part of that is making choices about… how that will be relevant to people’s cultural traditions here and generate the most dialogue.”

The most attention-getting exhibit likely will be Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which opens in November 2013.The show, which is the first North American and first major international survey of the famous and influential dissident artist’s work, opened at Washington D.C.’s Hirschhorn Museum last fall and will travel to Indianapolis and Ontario before coming to Miami. Ai, who has collaborated with PAMM architects Herzog & de Meuron on the “Birds Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will add new works for Miami, including a giant wall of Chinese bicycles named ‘Forever’ that were once the Communist country’s most-desired brand of transportation.

While China is a long way from South Florida, PAMM director Thom Collins says the issues reflected in Ai’s work will resonate for many in Miami. He says the same is true for an installation by Poland’s Monika Sosnowska, who deals with architecture and public space; video pieces from Israeli artist Yael Bartana, whose work deals with living in a militarized society; and Moroccan-born Bouchra Khalili, who looks at migration and identity.

“Globalization, migration, censorship in authoritarian regimes, economic change and instability, social change… these are global issues but also issues that one can address in ways that tie us directly to Miami,” says Collins. “This is a place that’s uniquely of its moment in terms of movement of populations, movement of capital, tensions about race and economic status. So how do we do shows that leverage unique aspects of Miami to speak about global issues?”

Hew Locke, a Guayanese-British artist whose installation For Those in Peril on the Sea, opening in December 2013, was commissioned by PAMM, hopes his fleet of miniature fishing boats, cargo ships and cruise liners will provoke strong feelings here.

“The migration in Miami gives this an added poignancy that it would not have in Britain,” said Locke on Thursday, inspecting the half-finished concrete walls of the gallery where his vessels will hang. “The real talk is not just about migration in a Miami context, but in a global context. Miami is part of a global family of migration, an example of a place people come looking for something better.”

Other exhibits have more direct connections to Miami and its many links to Latin America and the Caribbean. They include a show of Cuban modernist painter Amelia Pelaez del Casal, the first major U.S. retrospective of Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes, and shows by Edouard Duval-Carrie, the well-known Haitian painter based in Miami, and Adler Guerrier, a younger Haitian-American artist also working here. Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, an exhibit organized by three New York museums that will come to PAMM in April 2014, highlights two centuries of work related to the Caribbean.

The museum also will showcase its own collection in a large, long-running show entitled Americana, which will present work by artists from throughout the Americas, with an emphasis on those living in Miami.

Still to come is a slate of performance art, dance, music, film and video programs, to be put together by a curator who Collins says will be announced in the next month. The museum also plans to expand its education offerings, including a program to reach every third-grader in Miami-Dade schools, as well as talks and workshops with visiting artists and others.

Lindsay Pollock, editor-in-chief of Art in America, said the programming struck the right balance between international appeal and Miami-specific character that would help the museum stand out. Bartana, Locke, Khalili and Canadian Geoffrey Farmer, who has been commissioned to create a new installation for PAMM, are highly regarded in contemporary art circles, she said, while the Milhazes and Pelaez shows would be of interest to many.

“They have a lot to prove — this is a new building, and Miami is a tough city with a lot of dynamics at play,” Pollock said. “This sounds like a really interesting and dynamic mix.

“I travel to cities around the U.S. and the museums are often very homogeneous, like one big art fair. In looking to the Caribbean and Latin America, these are artists that are overlooked and underrepresented in the art world,” she said. “Highlighting Miami, Cuban, and Haitian artists is really smart, and will make the place feel specific and give them a special voice.”

How that voice will be heard in Miami remains to be seen. The museum has been criticized by some for not involving more people in the local art scene in its plans. The decision to change the name to reflect Jorge Perez’ $35 million donation of funds and artworks prompted controversy and led some board members to leave. Although art collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl recently donated 300 works to the museum, other important collectors and influential players on the Miami art scene, such as Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and Marty Margulies, have been among the museum’s most vocal critics. And PAMM faces competition from institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami and the Bass Museum on Miami Beach for funding and audiences.

Collins hopes that the museum’s offerings will ultimately overcome these issues.

“Not everyone likes every show or is interested in every exhibit,” he says. “But it’s a hallmark of contemporary art that it’s about offering people fresh experiences, and this is a town that seeks out fresh experiences all the time.”