This week, the huge wooden doors facing Biscayne Bay will be open at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the stunning Herzog & de Meuron-designed building years in the making.
While we’ve watched the structure grow up against the downtown skyline, what will be revealed inside has remained somewhat a mystery. An advance trip through the sprawling exhibition spaces and projects rooms to view the newly commissioned artworks, sculptural installations and more put many questions to rest. So far, the inside looks as impressive as the outside.
That’s immediately apparent with the initial greeting of a dramatic installation from Hew Locke, in the foyer. Dozens of colorful model boats hang from the ceiling, many of them bedecked with flowers. They are based on real boats and ships from around the globe: Southeast Asian fishing boats; pleasure craft; tankers; small skiffs. They are beautiful but also troubling, as the title is For Those in Peril on the Sea. They all face one direction, maybe a refugee armada heading for a safe destination.
This 2011 work from Locke, a London-based native of Guyana, is hard to beat, in relevance to Miami, in its placement in the museum, in the importance of the artist. This son of the Caribbean knows the powerful symbolism of boats to Miami; how many of our residents landed here after dangerous journeys across the sea. But look down from the ceiling and out the expansive windows to the spectacular panorama of the bay, and another Miami connection is hard to miss — the view of the port and in particular the line of cruise ships. It is now part of the PAMM permanent collection.
Another piece that deals with immigrants and migrations is the commissioned video from Moroccan Bouchra Khalili that will be premiered during the opening. It’s the third and final chapter in “The Speeches” series, in which Khalili talks to people who have wound up in foreign lands about their mobility, their identities, their adopted languages. Coming from a region, North Africa, that has seen mass migrations to Europe, she has a relationship to such a nomadic state. In her final chapter, she focuses on immigrants in New York. It will be screened in its own project room.
The commissioned video from Yael Bartana is opposite in tone and structure, as it is a fictional film called Inferno. But underneath it also is in Warsaw as a set. This time, in a commission from PAMM, political multiculturalist Bartana turns her eye on Brazil. She focuses on the nation’s emerging evangelical churches, on their religious ties to the Holy Land (her homeland) and the creation of the third Temple of Jerusalem in Sao Paulo — then she mixes it all up in a fantastical tale. While it is a surreal narrative, the very real tensions among religions, histories and philosophies are the underpinnings of Inferno. As chief curator of PAMM Tobias Ostrander explains the piece, he smiles and says, “who knows what we will see” when it actually makes its debut. But like the two previous temples of ancient Israel, he says, the idea of inevitable destruction will be an essential component of the film.
While the videos sit by themselves in project spaces, some of the commissioned works that will be unveiled are nicely integrated into exhibits spread out across the expansive two floors of the museum (although most of the art is found on the second floor).
On one wall, a delicate sculpture is made up of brightly colored thread that creates an illusionary geometric pattern, from Adrian Esparza. On an adjoining wall is a piece from Miami-based Lynne Golob Gelfman, who also explores abstract geometric patterning but with paint. In the following room is an older sculpture from pioneering Venezuelan artist Gego, who is known for her work with space and lines, making sculptures out of wire.
They blend well with Wake and Wonder, the site-specific, threaded wall piece from Esparza.
From a distance, Wake and Wonder has a very pastel hue — a nod to Miami’s Art Deco heritage — and its squares and rectangles resemble a blueprint for some of Miami’s new highrises (again, turn your head and the floor-to-ceiling window offers a view of some such structures). Up close the colors get denser, and the sculptures more resemble a gridded tapestry.
In fact, the threads of this piece, literally and metaphorically, tie it to the other commissions, in that it is about identity, but not one rooted in one place or culture. Esparza is a Mexican-American from El Paso who is utilizing the threads from a serape, the classic Mexican blanket or wrap, that is a clichéd symbol as well of his heritage. Here he has made his own serape, re-weaving the strings around nails to form a crafted artwork. As Ostrander points out, a real but distant indigenous culture, Sol LeWitt and modern Miami architecture all meet in this particular sculpture.
LeWitt’s trail follows into another exhibition room, where other fathers of minimalism who worked with structure and space, Donald Judd and Carl Andre, have works. In line but also in juxtaposition with the fathers, the commissioned work in this room comes from Julia Dault, who has made a sculpture from bronze-colored Formica, a far more fragile work.
The flexible material, often associated with kitchens — a woman’s place traditionally —is rolled up and tied to a wall. Unlike a sturdy metal or wooden work, this piece might snap. The artist says it is “securely insecure.”
Back in its own, high-ceiling project room, Monika Sosnowska’s commission references again the grid, and with very heavy material. Made out of 1,100 pounds of green-painted steel, this hanging sculpture is the skeletal reproduction of a street market stall from the artist’s home of Warsaw. But while made of stable stuff, the sculpture itself looks precarious.
Maybe, like an improvised stall, it was thrown together at the last minute and will at some point collapse. Or maybe here in the museum, its sheer weight will crash it to the ground. It’s a physical piece, for both the artist and for those viewers standing under it.
Finally, during the opening, PAMM commissioned Los Jaichackers to create a multimedia performance including video and music, called Night Shade/ Solanaceae. Not straying too far from the overarching theme of all the new works, the title comes from the name of a family of plants from the New World that were some of the first exports sent back to Europe. One of the first migrations.