For the 10th episode of “Cape Up,” we’re doing something different. We’re talking art with one of the stars of contemporary art, Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) director Franklin Sirmans. And what he’s doing at his stunning outpost on Biscayne Bay made for a fascinating conversation.
“Sure, there are people who would say museums aren’t for me. It’s this place that is of the past. But I … really believe we are different,” Sirmans told me. “What you have is, you have the opportunity to create a museum, a real 21st-century museum.” Such a place uses everything, from its programs to its architecture, to break down the wall that separates the institution from the community it inhabits.
“We need museums now more than ever. We need a place where people come together to have open conversations,” Sirmans said. “And I think that’s what a contemporary art museum does now. You know. It can be described as being a town square.”
That’s a place where the community and national conversation can be engaged through a work of art. And that art includes his 200,000-square-foot facility designed by famed architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. The openness of the grounds and the canopy that reaches beyond the core of the museum definitely pull people toward the town square that Sirmans envisions. “You can have an experience outside without even coming inside,” Sirmans said.
Sirmans is to the art world what Ford Foundation president Darren Walker (“Cape Up,” Episode 3) is to philanthropy: African American in a world where African Americans at their level are rare. For Sirmans there is an added dynamic. He’s a black leader in a majority-Hispanic city. No matter. That was a plus. “We are what a lot of American cities are going to look like in the future,” Sirmans said. “We’re already there. That was part of the attraction” of taking the job.
This conversation is unlike any other “Cape Up” conversation you’ve heard. You’re most likely a political junkie whose love of definitive language might make the lofty language of the artist sound unserious. Trust me, I know.
After three years of history and political science classes at Carleton, sitting in my first art history class my senior year was torture. I stayed only because I had to for the credits. But before the midterm exam, I was hooked. And I hope you will be, too, as you listen to Sirmans discuss Jean-Michel Basquiat, the impact the late artist has had on his life and what he means exactly when he says something is “of the moment,” which he does throughout the episode.
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