For Miami, A New Art Project, Complete With Drama The Perez Art Museum Miami opens this week, and despite praise for the building's design, the museum faces controversy over its name and has an uphill battle in a city where the art scene is already defined by private collectors.

For Miami, A New Art Project, Complete With Drama

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene, good morning.

The Perez Art Museum is set to open in Miami tomorrow. The $220 million project has a lot going for it - an international collection, gorgeous views from the galleries. What it lacks is support from the city's private art collectors.

Here's NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The building was designed by the Swiss team led by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, winners of architecture's highest honor, the Pritzker Prize. The new museum has been described often as stunning. It's notable for its spare, rectangular lines and expanse of glass windows, the largest hurricane impact resistant glass windows in the world.

THOM COLLINS: Yeah, this was very unusual, right, to have this much window in an exhibition space.


ALLEN: As workers hustled to finish construction, museum director Thom Collins points to the views on all sides of the galleries - the downtown skyline, Key Biscayne and the Turquoise Bay. Those views play off of one of the museum's opening exhibitions, a retrospective by Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei, spread over several rooms. Although he's currently not allowed to leave China, Collins says the artist created a piece for the Miami museum. It's a labyrinth made out of stainless steel bicycle parts.

COLLINS: Which one has to move through to move into the second floor of exhibition spaces, so it remains translucent. One can still see though the piece out to the bay.

ALLEN: In the entrance hall, 60 small handmade boats by Scottish artist Hew Locke are suspended from the ceiling, a flotilla Collins expects will resonate with many in Miami.

COLLINS: Hew Locke titled the piece "For Those in Peril on the Sea." And, of course, there are multiple allusions in that title. But certainly one of them is to the migration suggested by these various vessels.

ALLEN: Collins says the new museum's primary mission is educational, and it plans to do outreach and hold classes for children and adults.

Miami has blossomed in recent years into an international arts destination. For more than a decade every December, Art Basel Miami Beach attracts galleries and collectors from around the world. Despite that, the new museum has proved controversial. One hundred million dollars in public money is helping fund the project. This, in a city that's spent lots in recent years on big projects, like a performing arts center and a baseball stadium, often to the displeasure of taxpayers.

But even more controversial was the decision to name the museum after developer Jorge Perez. Perez contributed $35 million in cash and art. But four board members resigned in protest. Perez says he doesn't understand why. He says his contribution exceeded those made by others in Miami who've had institutions named after them.

JORGE PEREZ: I think maybe the name Perez doesn't sound, you know, as familiar, you know, with all these other names. You know? You have to remember this is the first Hispanic name in a major institution in this country.

ALLEN: Naming the museum after Perez also didn't sit well with some of Miami's private collectors, several of whom have opened their own exhibition spaces to the public. Many of them want nothing to do with Miami's new art museum.

Tyler Green is an art critic, columnist and host of the "Modern Art Notes" podcast. He says building relationships with the city's private collectors may now be Perez Art Museum Miami's biggest challenge.

TYLER GREEN: The museum does not have a major collection. And museums build collections by building circles of collectors that eventually donate work and support heir acquisition.

ALLEN: That may take many years. In the meantime, Miami's new art museum faces another challenge: luring visitors and residents away from the beaches and clubs and into a museum.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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