PAMM gets grant to acquire more works by African-American artists

09/20/2013 5:13 PM

09/20/2013 9:20 PM

A new donation to Pérez Art Museum Miami will allow the museum, already known for its art from Latin America, to add more works by African-American artists.

The $1 million donation is funded in equal parts by developer Jorge Pérez, whose $40 million gift of cash and art put his name on the new museum, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In the last phase of construction, PAMM is scheduled to open in its new waterfront location in early December.

“It is very important that this new museum, which is really going to be a beacon for our community, that the collection in the new museum reflects our community,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for the Knight Foundation. “Because we believe that a collection that reflects our community helps bring us together. It connects us to each other and it connects us to our city.”

Museum staffers have already used some of the money to buy three works on their wish list -- a 1967 painting by Faith Ringgold, a piece from 1975 by Al Loving and a 2009 photograph from Xaviera Simmons. Museum director Thom Collins said the pieces are themed around identity, contemporary politics and social change, and each represent the moment in which the artist was working.

To guide the decision-making process, the museum earlier this year also created an advisory committee of eight art world professionals that includes curators, a professor and an artist. The group includes Naomi Beckwith, Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Carole F. Hall, former Editor-in-Chief of African-American interest books at John Wiley & Sons and Michele Wallace, professor of English at The City College and Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

“It’s great because it’s a gift that has an immediate impact, it has a mid-term impact and we hope it will inspire additional giving that will have a long-term impact as well,” Collins said. “It’s a kind of thrilling thing.”

Collins said the museum already had a history of exhibiting and collecting work from African-American artists or artists in the African diaspora and had set out to make sure the museum’s staff, board, collections and exhibitions mirrored Miami’s diversity. But he said some pieces that the museum wanted to add have been out of reach because of their price, specifically art from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Pérez said the idea for the grant came after he saw different exhibitions by African-American artists Ringgold and Rashid Johnson and wanted to see the museum acquire some of the pieces that were shown.

“I donated my collection that was mostly Latin American art, and then I saw the donors that were doing mostly 20th-century regular American art, for lack of a better word,” he said. “I thought that the African-American art community was possibly not going to be represented as well as it should. Being that Miami is a city of three different cultures from many different countries, I thought that it was very important for us to make sure that African-American art was well represented in our collection.”

Advisory committee member Adler Guerrier, a Miami artist who was is originally from Haiti, said part of the importance of the gift is the chance to let students see themselves reflected in the artists whose work is displayed at the museum.

“I want the opportunity for the younger set to be able to see and even perceive the opportunity of what it is to be an artist in contemporary times, especially in a museum that’s going to be in a pretty prominent place,” he said.

While some of the initial gift has already been put to use, the donors say they are working to make sure the giving doesn’t end at $1 million.

Pérez said requests for support have already gone out to prominent African-Americans in the community. And Scholl said the Knight Foundation and Pérez strategically decided not to ask that the fund bear their names.

“We believe that there are likeminded patrons out there who believe in the idea of this fund allowing the museum to create a more diverse collection and because of that, we’ve chosen not to name the fund based upon our gift,” Scholl said. “We want to give somebody else the chance to step up and take advantage of that opportunity.”

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