Fairs Museums USA

Public service or private passion?

Can Miami’s wealthy collectors and public museums work together to deliver art to the public

Once MAM’s new Herzog & de Meuron building opens in 2013, the gallery will put the public at the centre of its programming, says the director

Since Art Basel Miami Beach launched in 2002 one issue has dominated the art scene in the city: the relationship between the numerous, flourishing private museums and the city’s public institutions. How the two work together often comes under the spotlight as debate continues about the cultural direction of the city. One question remains relevant: what is the future for Miami’s public and private collections?

In the past three years, the Miami Art Museum (MAM) in particular has been in the eye of the storm. The news, announced on Thursday, that property developer Jorge Pérez is to give MAM $35m in cash and art over the next ten years in exchange for naming rights on the institution (see p2) significantly advances the museum’s efforts to raise $220m to fund its planned move to a new Herzog & de Meuron-designed home in a waterfront park by 2013. With the Pérez gift the total raised by MAM now stands at $167m including $100m in Miami-Dade County bonds. The gift also obscures the slight by one of Miami’s most prominent collectors, Marty Margulies, to donate $5m to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last year instead of supporting the museum on his doorstep. This followed the resignation as MAM trustee in December 2009 of key Miami collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros after the unexpected departure of Terence Riley as director that October. Speaking to The Art Newspaper this week, Fontanals-Cisneros said she had closed her own private space, Miami Art Central, when she took up her position as a MAM trustee. Her intention had been to transfer some of the programme she had run in her own gallery to MAM and she made significant financial contributions to this end, but says that her ideas “were not even considered” because the institution was totally focused on building its new home at the expense of its public initiatives. “I was not interested in building a building, I was interested in what is needed to build the museum from the inside out. Grow later when you actually have a collection,” said Fontanals-Cisneros. Another issue, she said, is that MAM needs to adequately serve the community it is in. “This city has a big population of Latin Americans; the museum has an obligation to have more Latin American exhibitions and to develop a Latin American collection,” she said.

Director Thom Collins acknowledged that under his predecessor Terence Riley, MAM was “completely focused on getting this building done rather than on programming,” but “that’s what he was hired to do”. Now, said Collins, “MAM has entered a different phase. Now we are talking about what we’re going to do in this building and in the community.” Latin America will be at the heart of the stories MAM tells, said Collins. “We can’t offer an encyclopaedic survey of post-war art but we can offer micro-histories of Latin America, the Caribbean, the South American debt to European modernism.”

When asked if he is concerned that powerful local collectors such as Don and Mera Rubell and Irma and Norma Braman have no stated plans to give any part of their collection to MAM, Collins said: “Everyone associated with this museum knows that these private collectors were here first. They pioneered collecting in Miami when MAM hadn’t even started acquiring art. We have wonderful relationships with most of those collectors but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to change long-established estate plans. Nevertheless, they have helped us fund acquisitions and, in the short term, whether they have their own spaces or not, they have been exceedingly generous in lending their works.”

Donations to the museum from local collectors have come from trustee Craig Robins, television producer Douglas Cramer, Lin Lougheed, Mimi and Bud Floback, who gave a Gerhard Richter painting, and Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz. The MAM Collectors’ Council, founded in 2005 and originally chaired by collector and MAM trustee Dennis Scholl, has recently bought works by Ernesto Neto and Leonardo Drew, while a Young Collectors’ Council is dedicated to bolstering the museum’s collection of Miami-based artists. In addition, MAM has recently acquired works by Morris Louis, Fred Wilson, Dara Friedman, Liam Gillick and Theaster Gates, among many others—in total more than 100 works in the last two years.

The museum has also recently hired a “number of seasoned professionals”, including Tobias Ostrander as chief curator (see p10) and Emily Mello, former director of education at the Rose Art Museum in Massachusetts, as director of education and public programmes. The latter appointment is seen as key to consolidating audience outreach activities—MAM runs the largest art education programme in Miami-Dade County and the museum’s new home will comprise 200,000 sq. ft of “programmable space” including an education complex.

Education at the core

Though he has publicly criticised MAM, Marty Margulies is a supporter of Bonnie Clearwater, the director of MoCA, which also faces the challenge of upgrading its space with 16,000 sq. ft of new galleries by 2014. The funders of the $12.5m project are the City of North Miami and the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency. “The museum enjoys enthusiastic support from Miami’s patrons and collectors, including long-time board member Irma Braman and her husband Norman,” says Clearwater.

Other Miami museums are increasingly proactive in the field of education. The Bass Museum of Art, which has raised its profile under director Silvia Karman Cubiñá, is designing a special learning environment at the museum for children aged four to ten and MoCA launched its Art Institute earlier this year, which runs a range of educational programmes that will serve more than 20,000 children and adults. The museum’s outreach initiatives are also substantial: its Women on the Rise scheme, for instance, presents the work of contemporary female artists to teenage girls who have problems with the law or drugs. Meanwhile, the Frost Museum at Florida International University, which opened an acclaimed 46,000 sq. ft extension in November 2008, exhibits works made by children with emotional and behavioural disorders as part of its “Artworks!” project.

We asked several schools in the Miami area and officials on the Miami-Dade County School Board to comment on the merits of local museums and private galleries but received no responses. However a prominent local artist who did not want to be named, gave his verdict: “MAM is focusing on delivering programmes that are appropriate for a mid-to-large sized museum with a national and international scope. MoCA has taken the interesting route of giving [associate curator] Ruba Katrib carte blanche to curate. The Bass Museum is also trying to be more relevant.” However, the artist calls the private museums “self-interested”, adding: “I think they mostly have programmes during Art Basel Miami Beach, but they don’t seem to show much interest in scholarship or research.”

The city’s privately run spaces do, however, point out their education credentials. Weekly guided tours for students are available at the Margulies Warehouse space in the Wynwood Arts District, while the primary purpose of the De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space in the Design District is to provide education through exhibitions, artist residencies, workshops, lectures and outreach programmes.

Over at the Rubell Family Collection/ Contemporary Arts Foundation in Wynwood, a partnership with the Miami-Dade Public Schools network enables thousands of students to visit the foundation every year. The Rubells remain at the heart of the Miami art scene. Juan Roselione-Valadez, the director of their collection, points out that the Miami-based family has donated works to MAM, the Frost Art Museum and the History Miami Museum since 2005.

In an interesting development, in August the Rubells received a major donation of works by Californian artists from Boston collector Kenneth Freed, including 59 sculptures and 14 works on paper by Taft Green, Patrick Hill and Lisa Lapinski, among others. The move demonstrated how the Rubells’ organisation now functions along the lines of a public institution by receiving major donations.

The underlying issue therefore remains: will the public museums and privately run spaces continue to operate as separate entities? In 2009, Aaron Podhurst, chairman of MAM’s trustees, said: “Once we have a facility that can accommodate these types of collections, we’re confident that the great collectors in Miami will come together over time to create a public resource.”

Silvia Karman Cubiñá, of the Bass Museum, says that Miami benefits from all institutional development, as existing museums move to new buildings or more private collectors open their collections to the public. In contrast, a prominent member of the Miami commercial art scene, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “The Miami model has prompted people to build and show their own collections. Privately run spaces can decide to close one week and open the next. But serving the public needs to be done in a universal way.”

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