There was art, of course, at Tuesday’s member preview of the Pérez Art Museum Miami. And outside there were the sounds of construction not quite finished, of gardens still being hung and trees being planted and nearly three years of work drawing to a close.
But mostly, from the museum supporters who stood in line, snapped pictures and gaped, there was pride and a little bit of awe.
“This is overwhelming, isn’t it?” said Florence Jacobson, who spent 16 years as a docent at the building’s predecessor, the Miami Art Museum. “It’s beautiful, it’s people-friendly, it’s aesthetically so pleasing. This is special. This is going to be a centerpiece of Miami’s cultural life.”
Tuesday’s preview for members was expected to draw about 3,000 people and serve as the warm-up act to the official ribbon-cutting and grand opening to the public Wednesday morning. Though some external construction work was still underway — and the neighboring Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science will not open until 2015 — the art museum was essentially finished inside as guests arrived.
Visitors endured long waits for valet parking, battled traffic bound for the Miami Heat game down the street, took public transportation or rode bikes. Once at the museum, they waited in even more lines to enter; the bottleneck was due in part, said PAMM deputy director Leann Standish, to visitors asking employees so many questions as they checked in.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in December 2010, as Art Basel Miami Beach crowds filled the city.
The opening was timed to coincide with the same event this year, and many members said Tuesday’s preview was their first stop in a long night of Art Week parties.
Those seeing the Stiltsville-inspired structure for the first time seemed wowed by the wide staircase that doubles as a theater and lecture area. One woman walked up and declared: “It’s like an arena!”
Others exclaimed about the windows spread throughout the building that, unlike those of closed-off, box-like museums, provide views from almost any space inside.
The $131 million building is a public-private partnership, part of a $220 million overall project funded by private donors and $100 million in voter-approved bonds.
“It’s worth it,” said Linda Kubie, a real estate agent who moved from Palm Beach to Miami’s Brickell area three years ago with her husband.
“The city is evolving,” Kubie said. “It’s become a cultural destination.”
Kubie and her husband Jim stood on the Biscayne Bay-facing outside deck before sunset Tuesday, taking in the vista. The couple arrived even earlier than the 4 p.m. opening time, toured the building and checked out the art, which includes works by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and Cuba’s Amelia Peláez.
“It’s really a gem,” Jim Kubie said. “It’ll be a good place to spend the afternoon, read, watch the world go by. . . . This has got to be one of the best views in Miami.”
The couple didn’t seem bothered by the noise of workers behind them, or the construction equipment that still filled the grounds around the building.
“It looks like a work in progress, as things in Miami often are,” said Noelle Galperin of Coral Gables, a consultant to start-up businesses. “It doesn’t bother me that it’s not completely done. That’s the charming part of Miami.”
Davie resident Carolina Almonte, 21, was disappointed everything wasn’t yet finished, but said she, too, was proud that Miami was gaining cultural ground.
“Miami was lacking something like this,” said her boyfriend Justin Romero, 24. “I think it kind of completes Miami in a way.”
Joaquin Livinalli, a resident of Caracas who donated to the museum, took a photo of the “annual giving wall” where his and wife Alys’ names are written.
“Big things are possible,” said Livinalli, a real estate developer and art collector. “It’s worth it to dream.”
Livinalli said that as a fan of the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and especially of art, he was pleased to be involved with the final product.
“I love it,” he said.
Several members said they were excited for Miami to have a cluster of arts attractions downtown, including Museum Park and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts a couple of blocks north.
“I think it’s great for downtown Miami and the cultural corridor,” said Scott Shiller, the Arsht Center’s executive vice president, as he walked up the museums’ staircase. “Once the science museum is open, it’s just going to add to the dynamics and just the vibrancy of the neighborhood.”
Galperin, a charter member of the museum, said she was glad as a Miami-Dade taxpayer that county money had gone to the museum.
“I grew up in Miami, and I’m really happy and proud that our city has a Museum Park in the heart of the city now,” she said.