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Boats, pearls, crabs: New museum channels Miami

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Published : 2014-01-09 20:28
Updated : 2014-01-09 20:28

A piece by Chinese artist Ai Wei, titled “He Xie” featuring 3,200 porcelain crabs, is on display at the Perez Art Museum Miami in Miami. (AP-Yonhap News)
MIAMI (AP) ― Model yachts, rustic fishing boats and wooden rafts dangle above visitors as they step into the new Perez Art Museum Miami. The colorful display is both a playful nod to South Florida’s maritime culture and a somber reference to the perilous journeys many make to get here. It is the perfect entry to a museum that channels the city around it: whimsical, vibrant, brimming with culture from across the Americas ― and yes, a work in progress.

The museum, which opened in December, still lacks a permanent blockbuster, but its retrospective of Chinese master and political dissident Ai Weiwei, on display through mid-March, should temporarily satisfy. And the museum’s eclectic and provocative collection, coupled with its bay front location, has quickly turned the PAMM ― as locals already call it ― into a must-see destination for tourists and natives.

“Our biggest competition down here isn’t the other cultural institutions. It’s the beach, the water,” Museum director Thom Collins said. “So, rather than compete, the museum embraces its surroundings.”

As in the rest of Miami’s booming downtown, visitors to the Perez Museum are immediately greeted by construction along the museum’s front plaza and at the site of a neighboring science museum, set to open in 2015. Once under the PAMM’s shaded deck, though, Ai Weiwei’s mammoth bronze animal Zodiac Heads welcome guests, and the call of gulls and ocean breezes take over.

The Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect firm Herzog & de Meuron took pains to design an airy and hurricane resistant building, with a wide, shaded deck that can serve as the rare outdoor communal space in a city with scorching temperatures and no central park. Beneath the deck’s three-story slatted roof, shrubbery-covered columns hang like an abstract enchanted forest, pumping recaptured rainwater through hidden pipes to further cool the deck.

Inside, strategically placed windows offer views of the beaches and downtown skyline and provide natural light, while an open floor plan ensures future exhibits can be shaped around new acquisitions. No space is wasted: the museum’s center staircase doubles as a theater that can be divided into two auditoriums.

Ai’s retrospective, which includes symbolic crab piles, buckets of pearls, a maze of hundreds of bicycle wheels and an exploration of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, will be followed by a retrospective of Caribbean art and an exhibit by Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, whose psychedelic color bursts have earned her fame throughout Latin America and Europe.

Collins says that contemporary Latin American artists like Milhazes are sometimes overlooked by major U.S. museums.

“Her work is so baroque and sexual, and often in the U.S. we are somewhat puritanical,” he said, “but it will be well received here.”

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