Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: New museum gets — and celebrates — Miami

This museum is Miami.

From the houses propped on the sea and the lush tropical gardens that inspired the Swiss architects, to the stunning views of Biscayne Bay seen from breezy wrap-around verandas and affecting art-filled galleries, the Pérez Art Museum Miami is not a transplant but an embodiment of who we are as a grown-up city.

The open, light-filled cultural space is where the local and the international intersect to create a third thing — a uniquely Miami experience.


It was about time someone got us, celebrated the best of us, and put us in the context where we belong — the arrival of a city as a global metropolis with room for all.

Surely, this masterful Herzog & de Meuron design of sturdy, stylish concrete and wind-storm resistant glass will become an iconic landmark and a cultural destination for generations to come.

Yet at the same time on this preview day — and despite the construction workers that still command the scene before the Art Basel-timed opening Wednesday — the museum feels like it has been here forever.

It’s that local and relevant.

Opening shows feature China’s internationally acclaimed Ai-Weiwei; Cuba’s grand dame of modernist painting, Amelia Peláez, and the thematic collection called Americana, a word that in English and Spanish evokes images and objects typical of both North American and hemispheric cultures. And it is in this context that the work of Miami artists is presented.

There’s lots more to see, including project rooms with site-specific installations and video works that reference immigration, voyages, transience — and a riveting selection from the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry of Miami collectors Ruth and Marvin Sackner that, in the words of curator Rene Morales, was until now “Miami’s best-kept secret.”

It’s all a feast for the eyes and the soul.

As corny as it may sound, the new museum is nothing short of a dream come true for so many of us who see the arts not only as expressions of freedom and ideas, but as saviors and soul-shapers for this city in need of points of connection.

“Our miracle in Miami,” a museum staffer called it as she greeted me beaming Tuesday, when media and members got a first peek.

Her comment is no exaggeration.

It resonates with art lovers who’ve lived through a litany of obstacles and hits and misses along the road to this moment of accomplishment and celebration: lack of funding and support; ethnic battles; in-fighting over the very essence of what is art, and what kind of museum this should be.

For years, the negative noise went around in circles: Not enough money and support to create great things and no confidence in the institutions or its leaders that great things could be created.

But here we are, inspired by a museum that references what Miami’s detractors try so desperately to negate: That we — and thus, our art — has roots in the Caribbean and Latin America and Africa and Europe, too.

“They come to Miami because this is the experience they want,” PAMM director Thom Collins said Tuesday.

By “they” Collins was referring to visitors, as the new museum is expected to be a new major tourist draw, but I think it also fits everyone who comes from elsewhere — and stays.

And here, finally, is also the opportunity to shout what we’ve been dying to say for so long. We embrace New York as mother ship of the American art world, dearly love New York, but we’re not New York, nor do we aspire to be New York.

The Manhattan wanna-be complex that may have fueled the beginning of our art history is long gone.

Who we are as an art city is good enough — and strolling Miami’s new museum, you believe it.

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