Ai Weiwei retrospective highlights opening of new Miami art museum

The Perez Art Museum Miami, bordering Biscayne Bay. Workers made finishing touches prior to Wednesday's opening.
The Perez Art Museum Miami, bordering Biscayne Bay. Workers made finishing touches prior to Wednesday’s opening.
(Rhona Wise / EPA)

Wednesday is opening day for the Perez Art Museum Miami -- timed to take advantage of Miami’s annual moment as the center of the international art universe, the Art Basel Miami Beach fair that will open Thursday, bringing hordes of collectors and gawkers.

The $131-million waterfront building beside Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami was designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron. Its double-thick windows reportedly are designed to withstand hurricane winds of up to 150 miles per hour.

The headlining show for its kickoff is “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” -- an exhibition that opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., last year and traveled to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Art Gallery of Ontario earlier this year.


It is billed as “the first major international survey” of work by the dissident Chinese artist, who collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron on the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This exhibition’s curators are Tobias Ostrander, the new museum’s chief curator, and Mami Kataoka, chief curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, which organized the show with the Perez museum.

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The focus of the 120,000-square foot museum is 20th century and contemporary art, as well as cultures of the Atlantic Rim, which it defines as the Americas, Western Europe and Africa. It has 32,000 square feet of gallery space, making it somewhat larger than the Grand Avenue building of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

The museum organization has been building a collection since 1996 and opens with holdings of 1,800 objects, nearly 500 of which were acquired this year, including pieces by John Baldessari, Olafur Eliasson and Dan Flavin. The museum director is Thomas Collins, who’d been chief curator of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore and the Neuberger Museum of Art in Westchester County, N.Y., before coming to the Perez museum in 2010.

A $100-million public bond issue approved in 2004 by Miami-Dade County voters covered most of the construction cost. An additional $94.5 million has come from donors, and the museum says it’s opening with a $69-million endowment -- a nest egg that figures to provide it with about $3.5 million a year toward its operations, at a typical 5% draw-down rate. Admission is $12 but will be free two days each month, on the first Thursday and second Saturday. The opening week is free to Miami-Dade residents.

The museum is named for Miami real estate developer Jose Perez, who in 2011 gave a gift worth $40 million, divided between cash and the value of 110 works from his collection of Latin American art. The naming was controversial, prompting several trustees to resign from the museum board. Critics said it was inappropriate to name the museum for an individual donor because Miami’s taxpayers provided the public parkland on which it was built, along with most of the construction funding.



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